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Syrian, Russian Forces Readying Ground for Military Assault on HTS Jihadis in Idlib

May 1, 2019 (EIRNS)—The ground for an assault to at least reduce the territory controlled by Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the terrorist group in Syria formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, is being prepared by both the Syrian government and the Russian forces deployed at Syria’s request. An assault on the terrorist-controlled province was averted last September, when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the creation of a de-escalation zone. Erdogan promised that Turkey would convince HTS and other jihadi groups to evacuate from the demilitarized zone that would be created as a buffer between the jihadis and the Syrian army. Instead, the Turks pulled out the Arab militia groups that they control so that they could be deployed against the Kurdish groups that they regard as the PKK in Syria. As a consequence, HTS gained control over the entire province of Idlib and adjacent areas of the surrounding provinces, all the while launching attacks on Syrian army positions and residential areas in western Aleppo, creating what has become an intolerable situation.

“We see what is happening. We cannot say for how long this status quo in Idlib can last,” Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Safronkov told the UN Security Council on April 25. “It is not viable at all; on the contrary: It is dangerous for Syria and the region.”

Putin and Erdogan spoke by phone on April 30, during which their discussion “highlighted the need to continue closely coordinating the activities of Russia and Turkey in Syria’s Idlib province and take effective measures to suppress terrorist groups,” the Kremlin press service said in a statement. At the same time, the U.S. State Department issued a statement demanding that all parties “including Russia and the Syrian regime” avoid any large-scale military offensive, return to de-escalation and allow for unhindered humanitarian access.

The situation on the ground will develop regardless of any such U.S. statements, however. Al Masdar news agency reported yesterday afternoon that the Syrian army has, in fact, been given the green light for an offensive, and that it has moved reinforcements, including elite troops of the Republican Guard, the Tiger Forces and the 4th Armored Division, up to the Idlib-Hama axis, in preparation. A military source told Al Masdar that Russian government officials will meet with their Turkish counterparts before the offensive, to discuss the situation in the Idlib Governorate and its corresponding demilitarized zone. Al Masdar stresses, however, that, at least for the time being, any offensive is likely to be limited to clearing jihadis out of the DMZ.

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