The battle for Idlib draws near amid regional tensions


The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are preparing to launch its offensive in the Greater Idlib Region, which is expected to start in the near future. The Syrian Regime has placed a deadline of September 10th for negotiations over the future of the region.

Despite widespread anticipation that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies would launch its Idlib offensive over the weekend of 1st and 2nd September, no major military operation took place. One explanation as to why the operation was not launched came from one of the senior members of the rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, which is now part of the National Liberation Front (NLF), who claimed that Turkey had managed to prevent the SAA-led offensive in the region, with a new Idlib agreement due to be signed between Ankara and Moscow in the upcoming trilateral meeting due to take place in Tehran on Friday 7th September.

Despite hopes for an agreement in Tehran, the Syrian Government has placed a deadline of the 10th September for any political agreements over Idlib to be made. Without an agreement, the SAA has stated its intention to begin its offensive. Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the situation in Idlib could not be “tolerated indefinitely” and maintained the stance that the Syrian Government has every right to seek the “liquidation” of terror groups in the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif supported Lavrov’s comments during his visit to Damascus on September 3rd, emphasising the need to support the Syrian Government in “cleaning out” Idlib from “terrorists”.

Turkey has recently demanded the disbanding of the militant coalition Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and later formally classified the group as a terror organisation. The move comes as part of an active effort by Moscow, Damascus, Ankara and Tehran to divide armed opposition groups with militant groups in the region. However, the HTS has so far resisted Turkish efforts to disband, raising the prospect of both an SAA-led offensive in Idlib against the group, who are not part of the Astana de-escalation agreement, or a Turkish-led NLF offensive in Idlib against the HTS.

The United Nations (UN) has warned of the consequences of a military operation in Idlib, stating that it could trigger the most severe humanitarian crisis since the conflict began seven years ago. The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Jan Egeland, called on the Syrian Government to abandon its plans for a military take-over of the Greater Idlib region, which has received thousands of evacuated rebel fighters and their families, in addition to people displaced across northern Syria, throughout the course of the war.

The Regional Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Khairat Kabalari, has estimated that 350,000 children would be displaced by any escalation to the conflict in the region and many would have nowhere safe to go. The United Nations Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has expressed hope that there will be no escalation to the violence in Idlib prior to the Peace Talks in Geneva on the 20th September, which could yield positive results.