The Syrian Army recovers a strategic city in Idlib

       
Syrian government troops outside the town of Jan Sheikhun, in the south of the insurgent province of Idlib, this Sunday.

Damascus lost Jan Sheikhun in 2014, a town on the road that connects the capital with Aleppo

The Syrian Army regained control on Tuesday of the strategic city of Jan Sheikhun, in the south of the insurgent province of Idlib, the only one of the 14 provinces of the country that remains under the dominion of insurgent forces. Jan Sheikhun had become a key objective for the Bachar el Asad troops since the beginning – at the end of April – of his offensive on Idlib, where at least 2.5 million civilians reside, most of them displaced during the more than eight Years of civil war.

“This victory proves the determination of the Army and the people to continue beating terrorism until the last inch of Syrian territory is liberated,” has been the message that the Syrian president, Bachar el Asad, in Damascus has delivered. For his part, Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS, a compendium of jihadist groups in the orbit of Al Qaeda and a dominant force in Idlib with some 20,000 combatants) has assured through a statement that its troops “have retreated south of the city to reorganize the fight”. In the letter, they condemn “the silence of the world before the death of children and women” and warn that “the occupier [by the Syrian Army] will pay dearly for his aggression.”

Between the insurgent fire and that of the regular troops, a Turkish military convoy that, according to its officers, crossed into Syria to strengthen one of the 12 positions that Turkey maintains there deployed as part of the de-escalation agreement signed with Moscow. For Damascus, the Turkish military came to the aid of the jihadist armed groups that it supports. The convoy was bombed by Syrian fighters killing three civilians and wounding another 12. Muscovite officers present in Idlib have tried since yesterday to contain an escalation between the two regimes, according to sources in the Damascus government.

“The attacks of HTS militiamen in Idlib will be crushed and Turkey has been notified of it,” has been the response this Tuesday by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Ankara’s complaints alleging to have provided the coordinates of the convoy. “According to the Idlib agreement, it is not expected to extend the ceasefire of the [Syrian] regime to the terrorists,” Lavrov settled, leaving the Assad troops free in the ongoing air and land offensive. The insurgent side accuses Syrian and Russian aviation of attacking civilian targets and medical facilities. And this, causing a high number of civilian casualties that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has raised to 965 dead – 238 of them children – since the end of April, when Syrian government troops resumed the ground and air offensive in Idlib. Driven by the momentum, Syrian troops predict new victories, while the Turks warn against “a bloodbath.”

In political terms, the Russian endorsement of El Asad’s designs “to recover all Syria and end the terrorists” inevitably contradicts those of Turkey in Idlib – where it supports several Islamist militias – and those of the US and Kurds in The north of the country. “Russia defends the territorial integrity of Syria in the name of national sovereignty, while Turkey and the US endorse a confederal system and, therefore, the fragmentation of the territory in the name of human rights,” says expert Joshua Landis, editor of the Syria Comment specialized portal.

25,000 new displaced in the last 24 hours

In the surroundings of the Turkish posts, civilians used to be convinced that neither Moscow nor Damascus would bomb them there. At least 25,000 people have had to leave their homes fleeing the fighting in the last 24 hours, it is the recount that the OSDH does. Data that raise the number of displaced people in this province to 425,000 since the beginning of the offensive in April, according to the figures considered by the UN. Turkey and Damascus blame each other for violating sealed agreements, whose goal was to protect the estimated 2.5 million civilians who inhabit Idlib. Intestinal power struggles between insurgent factions have also caused a trail of deaths that have been salted with the victory of HTS and his emir Mohamed al Jolani, who will lead the Al Qaeda branch in Syria.

In the surroundings of the Turkish posts, civilians used to be convinced that neither Moscow nor Damascus would bomb them there. At least 25,000 people have had to leave their homes fleeing the fighting in the last 24 hours, it is the recount that the OSDH does. Data that raise the number of displaced people in this province to 425,000 since the beginning of the offensive in April, according to the figures considered by the UN. Turkey and Damascus blame each other for violating sealed agreements, whose goal was to protect the estimated 2.5 million civilians who inhabit Idlib. Intestinal power struggles between insurgent factions have also caused a trail of deaths that have been salted with the victory of HTS and his emir Mohamed al Jolani, who will lead the Al Qaeda branch in Syria.

“For more than a year the EU has frozen cooperation projects in Idlib for fear that funds will be diverted to jihadist groups,” laments an EU official in Beirut. Before the advance of the fighting, prices soar in Idlib and Turkey seals its borders to the passage of civilians. “The EU has invested millions and millions of euros to support a rebel society that is capable of causing a regime change in Syria. Now the EU builds walls to stop these refugees and in Idlib they cannot position themselves on the side of some militias under the orders of Al Jolani ”, is Landis reading. “It is a very bitter outcome for these people of Idlib,” he concludes.

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