Syria: jihadists’ strong resistance to regime in Idleb
An anti-regime fighter fires rockets from a village near Al-Tamanah, during fighting in Idleb province, January 11, 2018
The jihadists were strongly opposed Thursday to Syrian regime forces trying to retake a strategic military base in the province of Idleb, in the northwest of the country at war.
Tens of thousands have fled fighting since early December Idleb and then in the southeast of the province where the regime has advanced in favor of an offensive launched December 25.
It is in the south-east that is the Abu Douhour military airport where the troops of President Bashar al-Assad managed to enter Wednesday, with the crucial support of the Syrian aviation and that of the Russian ally.
The airport is run by Hayat Tahrir al-Cham, a jihadist group dominated by the ex-Al Qaeda branch that controls the province of Idleb. Its recovery would allow the regime to have a military base in this province, the only one to escape entirely.
But jihadists with rebel groups are “fiercely resisting” the airport, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH).
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and his allies have also launched a counter-offensive against the rear bases of the pro-regime in south-east Idleb and the north-east of the neighboring province of Hama, the NGO said.
From the agricultural fields near the Al-Tamana region in southern Idleb, rebels have fired rocket salvos at the regime’s positions, an AFP correspondent said.
On Thursday, clashes on this front cost the lives of 19 jihadists and 12 pro-regime fighters, the OSDH said. Some 96 civilians, including 27 children, have died since December 25 in Syrian or Russian strikes in Idleb, according to the NGO.
– Displaced ‘homeless’ –
The jihadists, who launched their counter-offensive to “relieve the pressure on the airport front”, have nevertheless lost several villages south of this base to the benefit of the regime.
By taking over the south-east of Idleb province, the government is seeking to “secure” a road that connects Aleppo, the country’s second largest city, with the capital Damascus, two strongholds of the regime.
The latter lost control of the Abu Douhour airport at the end of 2015 to the benefit of the jihadists. Since then, his presence in the province was limited to the villages of Foua and Kafraya.
Syrians flee fighting in rebel Idleb province, January 7, 2018 near Saraqeb
Rebel groups maintain a presence in Idleb, and despite their differences with the jihadists, the two protagonists have come together to fight against the regime.
Since fighting began in December, nearly 100,000 people have been displaced, according to the UN’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCH). “Many find themselves homeless, which could expose them to many risks,” especially during the winter.
These displaced people are often settled in “makeshift tents” or “abandoned or half-built houses,” according to the NGO International Rescue Committee.
– Anger of Ankara –
The war in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 340,000 people since March 2011 and triggered a serious humanitarian crisis with millions of displaced people and refugees.
Border of Turkey, Idleb is one of four “de-escalation zones” decided by the international sponsors of the belligerents to obtain cease-fires in the country.
The regime’s offensive angered Turkey, the rebel sponsor, who called on Russia and Iran, another Ally of Assad, to “shoulder their responsibilities” and stop the assault. .
“The regime is moving forward in Idleb,” protested Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu.
The tensions cast a veil of uncertainty over the meeting that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to hold on January 29 and 30 in Sochi to find a way out of the Syrian conflict.
Triggered by the repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests in the wake of the Arab Spring, the war in Syria has been complicated by the intervention of multiple regional and international actors and the rise of the jihadists.
Since the Russian military intervention in September 2015, the Syrian regime, then in trouble, has reversed the situation by winning a series of victories facing the jihadists and rebels and taking over more than half of the territory.
“The major victories of the army in cooperation with Russia and its other allies (…) strengthen the efforts for a peaceful solution that will restore stability in Syria,” Assad said in a statement from the presidency on Thursday.