Assad trains crosshairs on Syria’s Idlib province

By Paul Iddon, The New Arab

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The Syrian regime is conducting a major military offensive against the northwest province of Idlib – which is primarily under the control of the al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as the Nusra Front.

The offensive comes as the regime wraps up its Russian-backed offensive against the Islamic State group in the eastern Deir az-Zour province, launched last September, and may well become the largest such operation since the brutal battle for Aleppo in late 2016 …

“The situation in Idlib is desperate,” Kyle Orton, a Middle East researcher at the Henry Jackson Society, told The New Arab.

“Turkey managed to forestall an operation by the pro-Assad coalition in October by agreeing with Russia to move troops into northern Idlib. Turkey remains focused on Syrian Kurdish forces but has been working to undermine HTS by running information operations against it by leaking intercepted conversations, showing the group’s cynicism and brutality, and assassinating its most vicious leaders.”

The Turkish military gained its foothold in the north of Idlib province back in October. Their primary aim there was to encircle and besiege the Kurdish Afrin Canton, an isolated enclave controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – deemd by Ankara to be an enemy.

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