Syrian army preparing Idlib assault
August 31, 2018 -- Syrian troops are preparing an offensive against rebel positions on the Ghab plain, the towns of Jisr al-Shughour, al-Latamenah, plus Khan Sheikhoun and Maarat al-Numan on the strategic M5 highway.
The offensive would initially target southern and western parts of the insurgent territory, but not yet Idlib city, an official in the regional alliance backing Assad told Reuters.
Idlib province is, in theory, one of the four so-called “de-escalation” zones agreed by NATO member Turkey and regime supporters Iran and Russia in a bid to reduce violence. The three nations have established military observation posts for monitors around the province.
In practice, the deal aims at securing Syria’s strategic M5 international highway running from Aleppo to the capital, Damascus, and on through Daraa province to Jordan and the Gulf states, and the Aleppo-Gaziantep road into Turkey.
Idlib is home to around 3 million people, of whom 1.8 million are displaced from evacuations from eastern Ghouta, Deraa and other rebel territories captured by the government.
The province is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formed from Al Qaeda’s former affiliate Nusra Front. Other areas of Idlib are controlled by the Syrian Liberation Front -- an alliance of hardline rebel Islamist groups Ahrar Al-Sham and Nour Al Deen Al Zinki. Last February they announced they were merging to counter the growing power of HTS.
EDITORS NOTE: See GN38304 for the situation as at September 9, 2018