Idlib militants defy ceasefire to launch counter-attack – Russian Foreign Ministry

Militants from jihadist groups have continued their attacks in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib in defiance of a ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia on March 5, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The fighters from Tahrir al-Sham, an umbrella group comprised of several Islamist groups, and Hurras al-Din, a group that split from Tahrir al-Sham when it cut its ties to al Qaeda, used the period of calm after the ceasefire to regroup and rearm with foreign support, Russian news agency Interfax quoted the ministry as saying.

The groups then launched a counter-offensive against Syrian government forces in the province, the ministry said.

On Sunday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that jihadists had conducted six shelling attacks in Idlib and Latakia, a province to the south of Idlib.

On the same day, hundreds of protesters blocked the M4 highway to prevent the first of the joint Russian-Turkish military patrols stipulated by the March 5 deal.

The ceasefire called a halt to a heavy onslaught by the Syrian government forces who, backed by Russian air power, had seized large parts of Idlib over months of fighting that culminated in a bombing attack on Turkish troops that killed dozens on Feb. 27.

The Turkish military said its reprisals killed or wounded thousands of Syrian government soldiers and destroyed hundreds of tanks, aircraft, artillery units and other military hardware.

But the ceasefire allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad to keep the areas his forces had captured, pushing the frontline separating rebels and government forces far past the de-escalation zone agreed in a separate Turkish-Russian deal in 2018.

That deal called on Turkey to disarm and push out groups like Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din whom the Russians deem to be extremists. However, since the deal was struck, Tahrir al-Sham rose to become a dominant force among the opposition groups holding Idlib.