While eyes turn to the results of the meeting between the Turkish and Russian presidents on Thursday in Ankara, the number of Turkish military units mobilized on the border with Syria has increased ahead of the expected battle in Idleb against the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group.
News reports indicated that fighters from the Ankara-backed Euphrates Shield opposition force and the Turkish army will lead the battle to expel HTS from the northern Syrian province, in preparation to declare a “de-escalation” zone as approved by the Russian-Turkish-Iranian deal during the Astana 6 talks.
Mustafa Sijri, head of the political bureau in the Al-Mutasim Brigade, one of the most prominent groups in Euphrates Shield, told Alsouria Net on Thursday that meetings recently took place between the rebel representatives and the Turkish side, revolving around the extent to which Turkey will participate in the battle against HTS.
Sijri pointed to the presence of joint operations rooms with Turkey, adding that the number of Euphrates Shield groups that would participate in the expected Idleb battle would depend on military commanders and joint operations rooms with the Turkish side.
He said that the battle against HTS in Idleb was important for a number of reasons, most prominently “confronting the Nusra Front’s [currently known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham] project to dominate Idleb province, which gives a pretext to Russian and Iranian forces to destroy the city and its environs, or an excuse to the Americans to continue their support for the Syrian Democratic Forces to enter Idleb.”
Sijri stressed that although they did not favor a military confrontation with HTS, “there certainly would not be an alternative to the military option to stop Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and [leader Abou Mohammad] Jolani completing their adventures," adding that "Jolani’s actions have reached the point of treachery.”
He said that “Jolani has recently mobilized with orders from Iran after the meeting which occurred in the Abu Dali area [in the northeastern Hama countryside] between him and officers and backers of [President Bashar] al-Assad’s forces.”
Amid discussion of the expected Idleb battle, questions have been raised over Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham’s options against the forces of Euphrates Shield and Turkey, with various expectations among observers that HTS could barricade itself in its positions and declare that it will face a battle whose fate is unknown.
Opponents of HTS are counting on the group seeing divisions in its ranks due to the Idleb battles, thereby weakening its capacity to fight.
Sijri told Alsouria Net that they were constantly receiving secret messages from HTS commanders voicing their desire to keep out of fighting the Euphrates Shield groups.
Sijri said that the rebel groups were depending on fighters who had influence inside HTS to avoid bloodshed, saying that the group “has decided to go against the will of the Syrian people and fully align with the ranks of the enemy.” He added: “If the Hay'at decides to fight the people and the Free Syrian Army, its fate will be like that of ISIS [Islamic State], and it will not remain on our land or our liberated territories.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.