BEIRUT-A strong extremist group took control of most of Syria's last opposition war on Thursday and threatened a delicate ceasefire…
BEIRUT-A strong extremist group took control of most of Syria’s last opposition war on Thursday and threatened a delicate ceasefire intended to avert a Syrian military offensive and likely humanitarian catastrophe.
Russia and Turkey reached an agreement in September to create a demilitarized buffer zone in northwest Idlib province to prevent a Syrian government offensive to rebel groups, many of whom are supported by Ankara. The coach has largely been held since mid-October despite a terrorist group’s operations where-Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-who refuses to follow it.
But over the past two weeks, the group has intensified attacks on Turkish-backed rebel groups and took control of many cities. Since Thursday, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham struck a weapon against the rival groups, giving administrative control over almost all Idlib and small surrounding areas, according to a copy of the handwritten agreement published online.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, developed from the al-Qaeda affiliated nusra front, is termed a terrorist group by the United States and other countries. It has said that the ceasefire in Idlib was a plot to defend opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The takeover of the group could lead the Syrian military to attack Idlib because it violates the demilitarization agreement signed in Sochi, Russia. The Assad regime has regularly used extremist groups, even in small numbers, as a phenomenon for breaking previous violent agreements.
With the support of Russia, the Assad regime has resumed its control over much of Syria in the past two years, but not everything. In addition to the rebellious idyll, the American-backed Kurdish forces control a national team in the Northeast.
“What Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has done has greatly added complications,” said colleague Fateh Hassoun, a former Syrian military officer who is now a commander of the national liberation, the Turkish-backed coalition of rebel factions who came under attack by the extremist group. “The whole northern is now in a bottleneck.”
Turkey was already investing in maintaining the demilitarization agreement and resolving complications with Russia, he said. Turkey is on opposite sides with Russia on the Syrian conflict, which supports some common armed rebel groups against the Moscow-backed Assad government.
Turkey’s success or failure to keep Idlib peaceful could have major implications at a time when Ankara is negotiating to replace US troops stationed in northeastern Syria, which President Trump has ordered at home.
The plan that Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took over the telephone last month was questioned this week when US officials said a deal was dependent on Turkey promising to protect the American Allied Syrian Kurdish warriors. Mr Erdogan said that US demand was unacceptable because Turkey considered them terrorists.
An additional spread of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham forces on the ground in Idlib could force Turkey to participate in battles on several fronts and complicate their relations with Russia.
Mr. Erdogan repeated this week that an attack on YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia affiliated to a Turkish separatist group, was imminent. As Ankara and its allied forces in Syria are preparing to attack areas controlled by the US-backed Kurdish forces, a battle in Idlib could distract it.
“The survival or collapse of the Sochi agreement has more to do with the understanding between Turkey and Russia than the changes in Idlib,” said Ahmad Abazeid, an independent Syrian analyst. “But there is no doubt that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s control … puts Turkey in a difficult position and exposes it to more Russian extortion.”
Turkey, which hosts about 3.5 million people from Syria, is also afraid of a protracted fight against Idlib sending even more refugees trying to cross its border. Idlib is home to estimated three million people ̵
1; the vast majority of civilians and about half displaced from elsewhere in Syria.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday that the fighting between the two sides of Idlib does not violate the demilitarization agreement, which continued to hold. Russian Presidential Press Office did not respond to a request for comment.
From the beginning of the Fire Resurrection Convention, one of the biggest challenges that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham faced and it was reluctant to comply with the terms of trade. The group has had a complicated relationship with the more moderate rebels for years – sometimes they are against Syrian government forces, but in other cases counteract the gains and interests of the opposition.
The clashes in Idlib also come as Northwest Syria, where more than a million displaced acids live in tent chambers, suffered a brutal winter storm that caused flooding and freezing temperatures. The United Nations has called Idlib the largest refugee camp on earth.
Many residents fear what Hayat Tahrir al-Sham control might mean for civilian life. The group has previously tried to implement laws based on the extreme interpretation of Islam, among other things by having women wear face wraps, prohibit smoking and require separation of the sexes in universities.
The time for control of the stronghold is not over, said coal. Hassoun.
– Nazih Osseiran in Beirut and David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul contributed to this article.
Write to Raja Abdulrahim at [email protected]