Syrian opposition forces blocked the key M4 highway in the north-western province of Idlib yesterday, in efforts to prevent a joint Turkish-Russian military patrol from being conducted.
The strategic highway, which connects the Idlib city of Saraqeb to the coastal city of Latakia in the west, was blocked with large mounds of rocks, dirt and scrap metal gathered together to obstruct the joint patrol from making its way across it.
Following at least a week of Turkey bombarding and retaliating against the forces of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Idlib at the end of February, Russia and Turkey met for negotiations in Moscow on 5 March, striking an agreement to cease hostilities in the north-western province.
Parameters of the deal included the establishment of a de-escalation zone stretching six kilometres either side of the M4 highway – 12 kilometres overall – in which joint Turkish-Russian patrols would operate from 15 March, the preservation of the Syrian regime’s territorial gains in the province, and most prominently a ceasefire between the regime and the opposition forces, along with both of their allies.
Despite the ceasefire having already been broken and violated multiple times by the Assad regime forces starting only minutes after it had come into effect, the joint patrols were set to go ahead.
There appeared popular resistance to the patrols from the local inhabitants, however, with large demonstrations and protests taking place around the highway expressing anger at the continuation of the regime’s and Russia’s occupational presence within the area. This resulted in the cancellation of the first patrol due last Sunday.
One protestor named Umm Sayyid told the London-based news organisation Middle East Eye that “Russia has the blood of a million Syrians on its hands. We will never allow them to step foot on this territory. We have no place to go.”
Another protestor added: “Giving up this highway would be a free gift to the regime. These territories are not under siege and no one has the right to give them away.”
Though the popular resistance against the patrols is being expressed by civilians, the Syrian opposition has also been vocal in its condemnation of the agreement and its terms regarding the M4 highway. One fighter is reported as saying that “This highway would strengthen the regime and our refugees will be forced to stay in awful camps, hungry and suffering. We will never surrender this territory without a fight.”
Rather than seeing the agreement as an actual cessation of hostilities in the province besieged by the Assad regime and Russia, the opposition reportedly firmly believes that it will inevitably break down and that the regime offensive will continue.
Abu Ahmad, the opposition leader in the area of Jabal Zawiya who was killed today in an IED explosion, stated then that “No one has asked us to leave these territories, nor would we leave if they did…We have been working hard to fortify our positions and prepare ourselves for what everyone knows will come next.”