Steven Sahiounie, political commentator
Fierce clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and the Turkish Army and their terrorist allies raged in Idlib on Thursday, killing two Turkish soldiers and wounding five. The situation has calmed somewhat on Friday as President Erdogan will call President Putin in the evening to discuss the battlefield events. Russia has maintained its position that Turkey withdraws from Idlib and honors the 2018 Sochi agreement, in which Turkey was bound to separate civilians from armed terrorist groups.
The European Council stated that the 27 EU member states have called on all parties in the Idlib conflict to initiate a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons and to fully implement their commitments under the Sochi agreement.
Erdogan has a plan for Syria, and he has the support of President Trump and the EU. Erdogan wants to create an Islamic State in Northern Syria and wants to occupy Idlib as the western corner of a very long strip of borderland along the Syrian-Turkish border, which would end at the Iraqi border with Syria. This long strip of land would be a ‘safe-zone’, as he calls it. The EU accepted his plan and went so far as to offer to finance the plan with money for roads, schools, hospitals and all the infrastructure a new zone would need, including housing needs.
The ‘safe’ feature of his ‘safe-zone’ translates into safety for Turkey from Kurdish armed militias, which Turkey calls terrorists, but previously had been US military partners and assets, on the Trump payroll. The western media will portray the ‘safe-zone’ as meaning safety for Syrian civilians.
Turkey and Europe would send all the refugees to the ‘safe-zone’, as they have been overwhelmed with Syrian refugees, and now seek an immediate way to off-load their burden.
Abu Muhammad al-Joulani is the head of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which formerly was called Jibhat al-Nusra, which is the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Idlib is controlled by HTS, in addition to their partners Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), and Haras al-Deen. These groups have committed hundreds of war crimes and atrocities, emanating from Idlib, against unarmed civilians in Syria. 15,000 civilians in Aleppo have been killed by mortars, missiles, and propelled gas canisters in the last 9 years. In the Christian towns of M’hardeh, Saraqib and Salamiah and others, thousands of unarmed civilians have been killed by the terrorists based in Idlib by mortars, missiles, and car bombs. Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama is a triangle that has suffered for 9 years of daily attacks from the terrorists in Idlib, who have been well funded and well equipped by Turkey, the US, NATO and some of the Persian Gulf.
On February 15, 2020, Joulani appeared in a 12-minute video interview in an apparent attempt to gain additional support from Muslims outside of Syria. He ended the interview with a message to ‘the mujahideen’ and emphasized the importance of ‘jihad’ in Syria to all Sunnis worldwide.
In 2017 Trump cut off funding and support of Jibhat al-Nusra, and this is when they changed their name to HTS. However, the funding and military support is still pouring into Idlib, and conveniently the UN food program and other international charities have continued to support the terrorists and their families.
Recently, Erdogan has sought the US, EU and NATO support of his military operation in Idlib, under the guise of ‘humanitarian concern’, but they have failed to jump on his bandwagon because HTS is in control, and they would be supporting a terrorist group following Radical Islam, and with the goal of establishing an Islamic State in Syria. Erdogan was discretely told by western officials to urge Jolani to make a public statement by video declaring his group had dissolved, and this would clear the way for US-EU-NATO support. However, Jolani failed to make that statement, and instead, the video regurgitates the goal of creating an Islamic utopia in Idlib.
The Christian village of Kessab still sits unrecovered from the terrorist attack and occupation of 2014, and the residents have not all returned or rebuilt their damaged properties because the terrorists in Idlib continue to occasionally shoot missiles from Idlib into Kessab, which have killed and maimed unarmed civilians. The large city of Latakia has been a frequent target of the terrorists in Idlib as the shoot missiles in residential areas. In the summer of 2015, they shot 11 missiles in one day at residential targets in Latakia. The terrorists in Idlib frequently use drones to target the Russian airbase at Hmemein near Latakia, and military experts have discovered the source of the military-grade sophisticated drones is Turkey.
The Russians might make a treaty between the Kurdish and the Syrian government forming an alliance against the US and Turkey in northeast Syria along the Turkish border. The Syrian Arab tribes living in the northeast of Syria, who are supportive of the Syrian government, may work alongside the Kurdish forces, forming a popular resistance against the US-Turkish occupation. They would be supported by the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian forces. This situation reminds us of the Iraqi popular resistance against the US occupation after the 2003 invasion.
The tensions over Idlib are reaching a fever-pitch, as the Syrians and their Russian allies, and the Turkish and their terrorist allies face-off in possible full-scale military conflict. The tension between the two sides may escalate into open warfare or may dissipate into negotiations, via a third party broker, Iran. If negotiations were to begin, and succeed, we may see a new political settlement that would be acceptable to all sides. While Russia may yet accede to a ceasefire, it would not do so unless Turkey was to provide guarantees that the HTS in Idlib were disarmed and removed.
In my personal view, I see the Russian side may support Erdogan’s position in Libya, in exchange for Erdogan removing all terrorists from Idlib, and they may be shipped to Libya. The Syrian government and the Russians may take control of Idlib, and Turkey may also leave northeast Syria, under a guarantee from the Russians that the Kurdish militias would lay down their arms.