Since the end of last year, Russia and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad have been conducting a heavy bombardment campaign on Idleb, Syria’s last rebel bastion, in the Northwest. Islam Najib Haj Ali, an 8-year-old girl from the Kansafra village in Idleb, was the last victim of these bombardments, after she suffered “serious injuries” on January 8th, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a London-based watchdog with a web of informants on the ground in Syria.
On January 6th, the opposition SHAAM News Network had reported that eight civilians were killed in Idleb as a result of bombardments since November 11th. Attacks are often targeting poultry farms, essential to the economy of the region, which has been witnessing rising food insecurity and is under the threat of famine.
“Two civilians at a poultry farm in the vicinity of the town of Kafr Daryan, north of Idleb, were killed by two Russian airstrikes targeting the poultry farm, on December 31st. Two workers were injured by Russian airstrikes on a poultry farm between the town of Kafr Takharim and the town of Armanaz on January 3rd, 2022. A farm raising cows and chickens in the vicinity of Darat Azza was subjected to Russian aerial bombardment”, the SHAAM network said.
The rise in tension has led to condemnation by western countries, namely the U.S. and France, with Washington calling for “an immediate halt of escalation by the regime and Russia and respect for the ceasefire in Syria,” the opposition website al-Souria Net reported.
As a reaction to these attacks, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Jihadist movement that controls most of Northwestern Syria, has declared its readiness to “respond to any aggression that the brutal occupying enemy might think of, along with other opposition factions, in an exclusive interview with the opposition Zaitun agency.
And indeed, the pan-Arab news website Asharq al-Awsat reported that Syrian opposition factions retaliated to the raids by attacking Syrian regime positions near contact lines in the Aleppo countryside, killing a soldier and wounding two others according to the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria in the Hmeimeem Air Base. The Kurdish Agency North Press has reminded that “in a speech before the Russian Federation Council on December 1st, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, said his country would continue its efforts to completely eliminate extremist groups in Syria and settle the regional crises”.
As tensions rise, some have considered the prospect of a ground intervention in Idleb by the Syrian regime army. However, Ali al-Abd al-Majid, a researcher at the Omran Center for Studies, has deemed such an operation unlikely, in an interview with Baladi News, an opposition website.
Majid cites Turkey and the presence of Turkish soldiers in the region as the main obstacle to a ground intervention, especially since a military operation there would mean another wave of Syrians seeking refuge in Anatolia, at a time when President Erdogan’s popularity is fragile due to the economic hardship. Turkey, Russia, and Iran, the guarantor states of the Astana Format, cooperate more or less closely on their Syria policy in order to avoid clashes as much as possible.
Therefore, Turkey’s support and presence remain what shields the opposition from a bloody military intervention by Assad’s army in the Northwest. In the Northeast, the massive presence of Kurdish fighters is also a worrying subject for Ankara, as it considers the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a threat to its national security and territorial integrity. Sources claim that the weakening of the SDF could be used as a bargaining chip between Russia and Turkey, in exchange for a settlement with the Syrian opposition.