Syrian government tells Idlib residents war “is close to an end”
“In an ominous sign, [Syrian] regime helicopters reportedly began dropping fliers on Idlib, calling on residents to lay down their arms and collaborate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” reports Amberin Zaman. “In copies shared by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the leaflets say the Syrian war ‘is close to an end,’ that it’s time to stop the bloodletting and that residents should join reconciliation ‘as our people did in other parts of Syria.’”
“Faced with a weakening economy and sharpening popular resentment against the presence of Syrian refugees, who are perceived as stealing jobs and hogging government resources, Ankara has been scrambling to get Russia to exercise its leverage over the [Syrian] regime to delay any combative action against Idlib,” writes Zaman. “The province has become a holding pen for thousands of opposition rebels and their families evacuated from other parts of Syria, most recently Daraa and eastern Ghouta, as they fall back under the regime’s control. The al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Sham (HTS), a rebranded iteration of the extremist militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, remains the dominant force in Idlib. …Turkey’s efforts to lure away enough ‘moderate’ fighters from the group to trigger an eventual fracturing and dissolution of it have yet to materialize.“
“Turkey maintains 12 observation posts around Idlib to separate Syrian government forces and the various armed groups in Idlib. As Russia and the United States see things, Idlib is ‘Turkey’s problem’ not least because until it switched tactics in late 2015, Turkey was a top sponsor of the rebels — and allegedly of Jabhat al-Nusra as well. In the event of a regime offensive the Turks would have to withdraw or face the risk of getting caught in the middle of the carnage,” adds Zaman.
The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) “began tentative talks with Damascus in July in the hope of eventually reaching some form of accommodation that would, among other things, grant Syria’s long oppressed Kurds a say in their own affairs,” Zaman writes. “That is a long way off, given the regime’s resistance to any loosening of its administrative grip. The optimal result for now would be securing regime assistance in restoring logistical services, including water and electricity, in the broad swath of northeastern Syria that is under YPG control.”
“Military cooperation in Idlib, however, could pave the way for a similar effort to force Turkish forces out of Afrin. The mainly Kurdish enclave was invaded by Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies in January and has remained under their control since. Aldar Xelil, a top Syrian Kurdish official, told the Russian press in July, ‘Our forces are ready to take part in an operation to liberate Idlib.’ Noting that there were Kurds in Idlib, Xelil continued, ‘Idlib is under occupation by terrorist groups supported by Turkey. Freeing this city is our duty as Syrian citizens.’”