Syrian opposition forces have recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb in Idlib governorate, marking a significant retaliation and pushback against the regime's campaign in the province. "Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad's gangs," said Naji Mustafa, the spokesman for the opposition National Liberation Front.
The liberation of the town, which lies on the strategic M4 and M5 highways linking cities across Syria, comes after it fell to the forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad three weeks ago. Earlier this week, Turkish-backed opposition forces recaptured the town of Nairab a short distance away to the west, and since then had made it their aim to retake Saraqeb.
According to opposition fighter Ibrahim Al-Idlibi, the recapture of Saraqeb has eased the pressure on the opposition following the loss of some territory in southern Idlib to the regime in recent days. He is in contact with the other opposition factions, and made his comments to the Saudi newspaper Arab News. "The rebels completed their control of Saraqeb this morning after having advanced along several fronts," he explained. "This eases the pressure after the Syrian army's recent gains."
The province of Idlib, which is the last major opposition stronghold in Syria's nine-year-long civil war, was originally meant to be a de-escalation or safe zone under the agreement struck between Turkey and Russia back in September 2018. That agreement, however, was violated by both the Syrian regime and its ally Russia when they launched a campaign in April last year.
In recent months, the regime has made rapid and significant gains following the involvement of Russian ground troops and Iranian forces, enabling it to retake around half of Idlib province so far, including key towns and cities, as well as the strategic M5 highway.
The recapture of Saraqeb signifies the growing counter-offensive by the opposition forces against the regime, while Turkey will again attempt to stop Assad's advance by negotiating with Russia, Germany and France in talks next week.
The fact that the opposition has cut off the regime's access to the nexus of the M4 and M5 means that it has significantly reversed its momentum in the Idlib campaign. There is now speculation about locations for future operations that the opposition will be conducting in Idlib, including other key towns such as Ma'arat Al-Nu'man and possibly Khan Shaykhun further south.
A high-ranking official in the Turkish-backed opposition group the Syrian National Army (SNA) told the Daily Sabah that, "Saraqeb was only the first step; our battles continue, and we will not stop here. Rather, we will continue until groups loyal to Assad are expelled behind Turkish observation points."