Families of jihadists from Idlib settled in Afrin

Following the encirclement of eight of the twelve Turkish observation posts in Idlib by Syrian regime troops, the families of jihadists from the Al-Qaida branch HTS are now settled in Afrin.

The fighting between the Syrian regime and the al-Nusra-dominated jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Aleppo and Idlib continues. The observation posts operated by Turkey in the so-called de-escalation zone in the province of Idlib represent a place of reorganisation and rearmament of the jihadists. On Sunday alone, two of these Turkish supply points were surrounded. This means that eight of the twelve observation posts are now surrounded. The regime also took control of many positions of the jihadists and their Turkish allies in the Aleppo area. The Mezopotamya news agency (MA) spoke with the Middle East expert and journalist Ferhad Şami about current developments in the region.

Jihadists expelled from Aleppo area after nine years

Şami points out that the clashes in Aleppo are just as heavy as those in Idlib and that the regime has been able to achieve significant territorial gains. Important places and strongholds of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria such as Anadan, Haratan, Beyanun and the symbolically highly significant city of Kafr Hamra have been caotured by the regime. "For the first time in nine years, the jihadists were expelled from the entire Aleppo area. Al-Nusra and the other jihadist groups were forced to withdraw. They left abruptly on Sunday." The Russian air force in particular has played a key role in the regime's advance.”

Target is Bab al-Hawa

Şami commented on the developments in Idlib as follows: "The regime had first taken Saraqib. Saraqib and Maarat al-Numan were virtually the bases of al-Nusra. The jihadists were expelled from there. These places are located on the strategically important M5 road. The regime tried to reach the center of Idlib and the border. There are the villages of Sarmin and Masoma. This line is the defense line of Idlib. But the regime had to retreat from there because of Turkish attacks. Turkey has pulled together hundreds of tanks and heavy artillery in the region. After this line begins the mountainous area that extends to Idlib. The regime is waiting here to avoid defeat. The government troops also tried to advance to Atarbe and Bab al-Hawa. But Turkey has established a large military base in Atarbe. If the Syrian army enters Atarbe, Bab Al Hawa is only 9 km away.

The Bab al-Hawa border crossing point on the border between Syria and Turkey is located on the main road from Aleppo to Antakya: "If this place is taken, the Idlib would de facto be divided in two. The border crossing is access for the jihadists," adds Şami.

Regime wants to control the whole Idlib

However, the regime in Damascus, Russia and Iran are determined to take over the whole of Idlib, the journalist explains. "They are very determined in this respect. However, the regime troops are inexperienced in the mountains. That's why things look difficult at the moment as far as the invasion of Idlib is concerned. Moreover, there are still a lot of civilians there. But since Russia wants to bring the province under control quickly, the Russian army has created a civilian corridor and called on the people to use the corridor to enter areas under regime control. Russia is trying to take the refugee card out of Turkey's hand, explains Şami.

Jihadist families are being settled in Afrin

According to Turkish government figures, there are currently around four million people living in the centre of the Idlib alone. Şami considers these figures to be greatly exaggerated. According to UN estimates, there are also around three million people living in the entire province. Since the beginning of December, almost a third of them have been on the run.

"Most recently, some 150,000 to 200,000 members of jihadists lived in Idlib. In the meantime, the Islamists are moving their families to Afrin - sometimes by force. Those from Damascus are also being quartered out of Idlib and sent to the canton occupied by Turkey since March 2018. Other members of the militia are being transferred to Azaz and al-Bab. All regions are places in the Turkish occupation zone of northern Syria.”