The Syrian Army is setting its sights on the country's northern provinces. Photo: SANA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syrian government forces fired rockets and artillery at jihadist positions in Idlib on Thursday in what appeared to be the beginnings of an operation to retake the province, according to a conflict monitor.
Shelling hit targets around the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib’s southwest, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday. There are also reports of Syrian government reinforcements arriving in the area.
“The shelling is in preparation for an assault but there has been no ground advance yet,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
“Regime reinforcements including equipment, soldiers, vehicles and ammunition have been arriving since Tuesday,” he added.
The reinforcements have reportedly arrived at three locations – in neighboring Latakia province, the Sahl al-Ghab plain south of Idlib, and parts of southeastern Idlib already in government hands.
Idlib is the armed opposition’s last major holdout in Syria. It is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – the former Al-Qaeda affiliate still often referred to as Nusra Front.
Turkey also has a strong military presence and several observation posts in the province.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose Russian and Iranian-backed forces recently retook the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta and the city of Daraa in the country’s southwest, has now pledged to retake Idlib.
Such an assault could put Ankara in a difficult position. If Turkish jets are deployed to protect ground forces and opposition groups, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could find himself in confrontation with Russia, which would deploy its own jets to support Syrian government forces.
Kurdish authorities in Rojava say they are ready to take part in a Syrian government operation in Idlib if doing so brings them closer to retaking Afrin, which was seized by the Turkish military and its Syrian opposition proxies earlier this year.
“One of the steps towards liberating Afrin is that we must put pressure on Turkey and ask them to withdraw from the soil of Syria completely – and our enclaves in particular,” Aldar Khalil, co-president of the executive body of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), told Rudaw in July.
The defeat of Turkish troops in Idlib would pave the way for their defeat in Afrin, he said.
Rojava authorities are yet to make an official statement on their involvement in such an operation, nor have they been invited to take part by the Assad government, Khalil added.