Sarah Abed, independent journalist and analyst
Last week the town of Khan Sheikhoun was finally liberated by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), led by the Tiger Forces and Republican Guard. Earlier this month a truce was entered into force in Idlib. It was understood that if Ankara failed to implement its obligations under the ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey last September in Sochi, the Syrian army would continue with their military operation. A few days later, Turkish-backed terrorist factions violated the ceasefire and the Syrian Arab Army resumed their military operation, just as planned.
The strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun is within the southern Idlib Governorate in northwestern Syria. Idlib is the last terrorist stronghold in Syria. It sits on a highway connecting Damascus and Aleppo, part of which has been controlled by terrorists since 2012.
Efforts to pave the highway as Syrian troops progress north towards two other nearby Turkish posts are underway.
In order to make their recent advancement, the SAA surrounded a heavily fortified Turkish military observation post in the northwestern village of Morek. In response to the rapid advances made by the Syrian army over the past few weeks, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “We have no intention of moving it and it will continue to serve out its purpose,” he added “The regime should stop playing with fire.”
The twelve observation posts in northwestern Syria are part of the agreement reached last year between Turkey and Russia. Turkey’s support for terrorist factions throughout the war, along with looting factories in Aleppo, and their expansionist ambitions have all led to increased friction and deteriorating relations between the Turkish and Syrian governments. Furthermore, Turkey is seen as an unwelcomed invader much like the US, and all other foreign uninvited forces on Syrian territory.
Two years ago, Khan Sheikhoun made headlines for a supposed chemical weapons attackthat was automatically pinned on the Syrian Government. Allegations were quickly made by local terrorists with strong ties to media platforms such as The White Helmets. Quickly thereafter and based on falsities, US President Donald Trump launched 59 tomahawk missiles on Syrian airfields.
Almost exactly a year later in Douma, the US, UK, and France responded to another alleged chemical weapons attack which once again was blamed on the Syrian government, by launching a coordinated missile attack on Syrian targets. In an interviewwith Sputnik News I mentioned both of these events and the premature attacks that followed, prior to OPCW findings being issued.
Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) issued a statement of the General Command of the Army and Armed Forces whereby it was announced that after intensive strikes over the course of days against terrorists in Hama’s northern countryside that their brave soldiers managed to liberate Khan Sheikhoun city, as well as many other locations including strategic hills in the northern countryside of Hama and Idlib’s southern countryside. They were able to inflict heavy losses on terrorists in both personnel and arms.
The General command reiterated that the plan is to liberate the entire country from terrorists. The statement concluded with confirmation that work is underway to clear these villages and towns of IED’s and the dense minefields that were planted by the terrorists, so that citizens can return to their homes and farmlands as soon as possible.
During combing operations in Khan Sheikhoun and al-Tamani’a area in Idlib’s southern countryside on Friday, the Syrian Arab Army uncovered a network of tunnels dug into mountains, which were used as fortified headquarters for Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists and affiliated groups. These tunnels included a set of chambers which were used by terrorists to plan their criminal acts and hide from the SAA’s intensive air strike campaigns, they were equipped with electric lighting, sanitation, and accommodations.
Humanitarian aid was delivered to Khan Sheikhoun on Monday, by the Russian military. Efforts are underway to restore water and electricity so that residents can return to their homes as quickly as possible.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated on Tuesday, the need for eliminating terrorism in Idlib and other regions of Syria during a press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Putin said, “The situation in the de-escalation zone of Idlib stirs our concern as terrorist groups in the area continue their attacks on the sites of Syrian army and Russian troops in Syria,”. Putin added that the de-escalation zone of Idlib should not be used for refuge by terrorists and that many procedures must be taken to remove terrorist cells from Idlib and other regions in Syria.
On Tuesday the SAA confronted an attack launched by Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists on military points positioned along the axis of Sham al-Hawa a town in Idlib’s southeastern countryside killing and injuring the majority of the attackers. The SAA also carried out a series of artillery and rocket strikes on fortifications of these terrorists and groups affiliated with them in Idlib’s countryside and was successful in destroying many dens, vehicles, and killing several domestic and foreign terrorists.
Foreign journalists came from Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Russia to view the newly liberated town. On Tuesday SANA reported that a Russian and European media delegation visited Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib’s countryside. The Governor of Idlib Muhammad Fadi Sadun also confirmed that over the past three days a road to one of the local schools was rebuilt and the building is being repaired with an expected opening date of September 1st. “It is very painful to see all this destruction that happened to Khan Sheikhoun. Before the war, it was a very beautiful town, people lived a good, wealthy life. Thank God, now it is liberated, and we will try to do everything to make it as soon as possible the same as before, so that people live peacefully and children go to school”, he said.