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Assad’s regime, Russia escalate attacks in Idlib, Erdogan warns

Syrians are seen with their belongings who have been forced to displace due to the ongoing attacks carried out by Assad regime and Russia, during winter season at makeshift tent area in Harbanos town of Idlib, Syria on December 24, 2019 [Muhammed Said / Anadolu Agency]
Syrians are seen with their belongings who have been forced to displace due to the ongoing attacks carried out by Assad regime and Russia, during winter season at makeshift tent area in Harbanos town of Idlib, Syria on December 24, 2019 [Muhammed Said / Anadolu Agency]

Several cities and towns in the southern and eastern countryside of Idlib have been subjected to a series of raids carried out by aircraft of the Syrian regime and Russia, coinciding with widespread attacks against populated villages and areas.

The rapid field developments in the Idlib Governorate, northwest of Syria, confirm that Moscow dropped from its calculations the Sochi understanding it had concluded with Ankara about Idlib and its surrounding area, last year and that it is continuing the military option in this region.

While the fighting is still ongoing in Idlib, Ankara announced that a Turkish delegation will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation in Idlib, at a time when Turkey talked about the arrival of thousands of refugees on its lands during the past days.

Syrian regime’s attack and control

On Sunday, Syrian regime forces took control of nine villages and towns in the south-eastern countryside of Idlib under Russian air force cover, according to the official Syrian TV channel.

The channel indicated that the regime forces had taken control of the villages and towns of Abu Sharji, Alheraki, Al-Quraqi, Tahtaya, Al-Bustan, Al-Burj, Farwan, Sqiah, and Karastana, after fighting what they described as “terrorists.”

Al Jazeera’s correspondent asserted that the regime forces are now on the outskirts of the Turkish surveillance point in the town of Sarman, from the eastern and southern sides, while the southern countryside of Idlib is witnessing battles through which the regime forces are trying to advance at the expense of the opposition in the region.

The TV channel clarified that at least 12 civilians were killed in an airstrike that targeted cities and towns in Idlib countryside, and it quoted sources in the opposition as saying that Russian and Syrian aircrafts carried out these raids.

The battle areas witnessed a massive displacement movement of civilians towards the Turkish border, after the rapid advance of the regime forces and their control over the villages and towns there.

The Syrian Humanitarian Response Coordinators estimated the number of IDPs at more than 200,000 people since the beginning of last month, as a result of the military campaign of the Syrian regime and Russia on the governorate.

Read: Erdogan says Turkey cannot handle new migrant wave from Syria, warns Europe

Turkish action

Tayyip Erdoğan announced that a Turkish delegation will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation in Syria’s Idlib, adding that Ankara will take several steps in northern Syria based on the results of the visit.

“Turkey is doing its best and will continue to do so, in cooperation with Russia, to end the attacks on Idlib … We decided to send a delegation to Moscow to discuss the situation in Idlib,” said Erdoğan in a speech he delivered on Sunday in Istanbul.

The Turkish President expressed his concern over a new wave of displacement from Syria as a result of the aggravation of the situation in Idlib, saying: “More than 80,000 Syrian refugees from Idlib have started to migrate towards the Syrian-Turkish borders, and this situation cannot be borne by Turkey alone.”

“We will determine our next steps based on the results of the discussions of the Turkish delegation in Moscow,” added Erdoğan.

Syrian regime: significant losses

Despite the advancement of the regime forces on the ground a few days ago, the cost of this advancement seems heavy, as these forces incur daily human losses amounting to the death of dozens of their members.

Pro-regime media sources stated on Sunday that Colonel Basil Ali Khaddour was killed in the battles of Idlib countryside, noting that he was the commander of the sixth regiment of the special duty ranks of the “25th Division.”

Pro-regime Facebook pages mourned the death of dozens of officers and members of the regime forces who were killed in the fighting, including 16 people who fell on the front of the village of Raffa, east of Maarat Al-Numan.

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed website quoted Colonel Mustafa Bakour, a leader in the Syrian opposition factions, as saying that the villages and sites that have been controlled by the regime forces during the past few days “form an entrance to reach the city of Maarat Al-Numan in the southern Idlib countryside.” He summarised the options of the opposition factions to counter this advancement by “resisting and inflicting the regime forces with great losses.”

Commenting on the strategy of the Russians and the regime in the Syrian northwest, Bakour stressed that it is based on the scorched earth policy, besieging the fortified areas and creating a human tragedy through mass killing and displacement, so as to put pressure on the fighting factions in the Idlib Governorate and its surroundings.

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