The Syrian regime has reportedly captured ten towns and villages in less than two days in the embattled province of Idlib in the north-west of the country, marking its most rapid advance in its campaign to recapture the last major opposition stronghold.
The troop and militias belonging to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad made the progress after gaining control of the M5 highway connecting the key cities of Damascus and Aleppo over the weekend. They then blocked the highway, cutting off the supply routes of the opposition forces in the primary town of Khan Al-Sabil and city of Maarat Al-Nu’man.
This move, as well as the clashes with regime forces that followed, forced the opposition to evacuate the surrounding towns, villages and checkpoints, allowing the regime to impose its control over the ten towns and villages in rural Idlib within less than 48 hours.
As part of the escalation of the attacks on Saturday night, the areas witnessed over 78 air strikes carried out by Russian jets and numerous barrel bombings, resulting in significant losses on both sides including the killing of 88 regime troops and at least 67 opposition fighters. This death toll is likely to increase due to the injuries sustained by those involved.
Meanwhile, opposition groups made some advancements of their own in some areas further north toward the city of Maarat Al-Nu’man.
Following the regime’s rapid advancement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that his government has been holding consultations and meetings with Russia to urge it to protect the civilians of Idlib. He also stated yesterday, during a press conference in Istanbul prior to his trip to Algeria, that work is being carried out to construct temporary homes and houses near the Syrian-Turkish border. These homes would be intended for the displaced civilians, which Erdogan estimates number 400,000, fleeing the bombardment in the south of the province, and are being built using bricks and insulation to withstand the winter temperatures.
“In an area 30-40 kilometres deep in Syria close to our border, we have planned to build, not a tent city, but homes, and the construction has begun,” Erdogan stated. “We want our Idlib brothers and sisters to take shelter in winter here.”
Since April last year, the regime has led a campaign of constant aerial bombardment of the province with Russian support, aiming to recapture the last major opposition stronghold in the country in its nine-year-long civil war. This campaign was launched despite the deal between Turkey and Russia in September 2018 to make Idlib a de-escalation zone in which civilians could live safe from the conflict.
With much of the country having been recaptured by the regime, and consequently many of the citizens being subject to its suppression and torture once again, Idlib has long been in Assad’s sight. Throughout much of last year, however, the regime made little progress in retaking it from the opposition until Russian ground troops and Iranian forces became involved, helping Al-Assad advance into much of the province and capture many cities and areas.