Russia and Middle East analyst Aydın Sezer explained the recent situation in Idlib, which seems to have fallen off the agenda as a result of the worldwide covid-19 pandemic alarm.
Three weeks after the signing of a cease-fire agreement, Ankara is expected to do its homework to uphold its shaky March 5 deal with the Kremlin on Idlib and to ensure full security along the strategic M4 highway.
“The first priority of Turkey and Russia now is to ensure the security of the M4 highway linking Syria’s east and west and to eliminate any potential risk of attack. Establishing the safe passage along this road is our specific duty right now and we have to fulfill it within the upcoming months,” Aydin Sezer told Arab News.
Turkey recently established three new military posts in the Jisr Al-Shughour countryside in Idlib, located in the villages of Badama, Al-Najiya and Al-Sainiya.
Extremist factions that are not controlled by Turkey, especially Caucasian and Central Asian fighters, have been harshly criticized for continuing their destabilizing activities in Idlib — recently detonating improvised explosive devices on the route of a Turkish convoy patrolling the village of Sfukhon in Idlib province.
The explosions damaged two armored vehicles and injured two Turkish soldiers on March 24. Ankara did not, however, release any official statement about the injury of its troops.
The attack on Turkish soldiers came just four days after the country’s first reported casualties since the cease-fire of early March. Two Turkish soldiers were killed and another was injured in a rocket attack by radical groups in Idlib.
Signs of escalation in Idlib
According to Sezer, there are signs of an impending escalation in northwestern Syria that are similar to the incidents in early February, and “the silence from Turkish authorities by not commenting either on any injury or on the implementation of the March 5 deal confirms it.”
While the Assad regime accuses Turkey of backing rebel sabotage of joint patrols in Idlib, some rebel groups, including Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), rejected the Moscow deal. Some other groups such as Hurras Al-Din, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria with a considerable number of foreign terrorist fighters in its ranks, is also seen as a rising threat.
“Turkey is expected to distinguish moderate armed opposition and terror groups in Idlib. If Ankara cannot persuade them to lay down arms, it has to enter into a fight to meet the commitments under the Moscow deal. What Russians expect is the total restoration of order in these territories. Therefore, it is early to anticipate a definite success from the Turkish side,” Sezer said.
Last month at least 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a single attack by Russian-backed regime forces. During February, 60 Turkish soldiers died in Idlib.