Tense times for Turkey in Idlib

As Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops encircle Turkish forces and Turkish-backed opposition rebels in the northwestern Syrian town of Idlib, it is unclear whether they will make a bid to recapture the whole city, Syrian historian Sami Moubayed wrote for Arab Weekly.

“If retaken, it would spell the final ejection of the armed opposition from all cities across Syria,” Moubayed said.

The city had long been used as a dumping-ground for jihadists squeezed in conflicts elsewhere, he said.

“After the Russians stepped up their military presence in late 2015, they have been regularly injecting Idlib with thousands of additional fighters from faraway territories, shipping them on green buses with their light arms, under the supervi­sion of the United Nations. The idea was to create a ‘mini-Afghanistan’ in Idlib, led by a Taliban-like re­gime, marred by inter-rebel fight­ing.”

Now that Assad’s strategic position inside Syria is improving, there is the question of whether last year’s Astana agreement between parties to the Syrian civil war will remain firm or fall apart.

“Some claim the recent advance­ment of Syrian government troops is proof that the agreement over Idlib has ended or collapsed and that a confrontation is looming between Damascus and Ankara, perhaps via Syrian proxies,” Moubayed said.

“Others argue that everything happening around Idlib is part of a neatly mapped parti­tion of the country, agreed upon by Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.”