Russian-backed Syrian government forces will be able to advance all the way to the Turkish border if they pierce rebel defences in the northwest, a top opposition official said, urging Turkey to do more to shield the area from a major attack, reports Reuters.
The month-long onslaught is the most serious escalation of the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer. Syrian government airstrikes and barrel bombing backed by Russian air power have uprooted around 250,000 people in the territory, the last significant rebel stronghold.
Fawaz Hilal, head of the “Salvation Government” that runs Idlib province, expressed confidence that opposition fighters gathered in the Idlib region from all over Syria would be able to resist the onslaught.
“This ferocious attack is a bone-breaking battle. If the regime is able to break our defensive lines in northern Hama and southern Idlib it will not stop until it reaches the borders,” Hilal told Reuters in an interview.
His government, backed by the powerful Tahrir al-Sham jihadist group, had called on its employees to help shoulder the “military burden” through building sandbag defences, manning front lines, financial support or any other help.
“We are all concerned with repelling this attack,” he said.
The bombardment has killed 229 civilians and injured 727 since April 28, according to The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), a US-based medical NGO.
Hilal spoke at his office in Idlib city, the provincial capital where life has continued as normal as the offensive has mostly targeted front-line areas to the south.
“We are optimistic despite this military campaign. If we weren’t, we would not be here today,” Hilal said.
The streets are busy with cars and pedestrians, and before sunset, street vendors come out in large numbers to sell food to Muslims observing the daytime fasting for Ramadan.
Hilal noted Idlib’s defences had been boosted by rebels forced from other parts of Syria such as Ghouta, Homs and Deraa when Assad took their towns and villages.
“Those lads have great combat doctrine,” he said.
Tahrir al-Sham is the most powerful insurgent group in the region. It was formerly known as the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian wing until it broke away and renamed itself in 2016. The United Nations designates it a terrorist group.
Other rebels taking part in the defence of the area include Turkey-backed groups. Senior opposition and rebel sources said on Saturday Turkey had sent fresh supplies of weaponry to these groups to help them repel the assault.