Fears of new bloodbath in Idlib as Assad troops go on the offensive

A wedding convoy drives along a residential area in Idlib province as fears grew on Sunday of a new Syrian regime offensive in the militant-held region. (AFP)
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Updated 17 August 2020

Fears of new bloodbath in Idlib as Assad troops go on the offensive

  • Battle looms after Russia quits joint patrols with Turkey, analysts tell Arab News

ANKARA: Syrian leader Bashar Assad has re-mobilized his forces in northwest Syria, raising fears of a new bloodbath in militant-controlled Idlib province.

The move follows Russia’s suspension of joint military patrols with Turkish armed forces along the M4 highway in what is supposed to be a de-escalation zone.

The patrols began in March, along the Aleppo-Latakia road. The last one took place on Aug. 12 and Moscow suspended them two days later.

Since then, Assad regime forces have launched rocket attacks against Al-Fterah, Sfuhen and Kansafra in Jabal Al-Zawiyah in the southern countryside of Idlib. 

The area is controlled by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, who used rockets and heavy machine guns to attack the regime-controlled village of Beit Hasanou in Sahl Al-Ghab in northwest Hama.

The stage may be set for a new “battle of Idlib,” experts told Arab News. 

Navar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said the combatants were treading a thin line.

“Hezbollah moved some of its forces in a bid to launch an attack to the area in the south of the M4 highway,” he told Arab News. 

“This zone where the joint patrols are suspended is elevated, and whoever controls this region can control the whole of Idlib. So, it is a very strategic area where sooner or later some skirmish will happen.

“There is a high percentage chance of an operation by the regime. It will be a narrow-scale battle. The Turks are not ready to withdraw from this strategic area or allow the opposition to withdraw either. Sooner or later, the Russians will control this area.

“Moscow initially planned to monitor the area with no opposition forces present, but that did not happen because Turkey, unwilling to concede to Russia, mobilized some of its forces and opposition forces there, triggering another source of tension between Moscow and Ankara.”

Kyle Orton, a Middle East analyst, said Russia’s suspension of joint patrols in Idlib may be a temporary security matter as they consider their options. 

“The patrols have been coming under attack, from peaceful protesters at first, but increasingly militarily, especially since last month,” he said.

“Moscow’s intentions are obviously always suspect in Syria and there have been signs of a renewed regime coalition offensive against Idlib in recent days, so Russia’s suspension of the patrols could be a tactical issue related to that.”

“Turkey, likewise, continues to have the same policy of preserving at least northern Idlib as a buffer zone to avoid a destabilizing wave of refugees laced with terrorists being pushed into Turkish territory.”


UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

Updated 30 October 2020

UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

  • Husband Richard Ratcliffe: Iran has ordered Nazanin to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen”

LONDON: Britain on Friday warned Iran against throwing detained woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back in jail, after hauling in Tehran’s envoy for a dressing-down over her emotive case.
The Foreign Office summoned Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad on Thursday to hear renewed demands from a senior official for an end to the British-Iranian captive’s “arbitrary detention.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC radio Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in a “horrific position,” after her husband said Iran has ordered her to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail.
Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen,” Raab said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will turn 42 on Boxing Day, has been on temporary release from Tehran’s Evin prison and under house arrest since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016 while visiting relatives with her young daughter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — denied charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016. (AFP)

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said this week that the Foreign Office’s handling of the case “seems disastrous,” and that “the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune.”
Raab told the BBC: “We’ve made it very clear we want to try to put the relationship between the UK and Iran on a better footing.
“If Nazanin is returned to prison, that will of course put our discussions and the basis of those discussions in a totally different place. It is entirely unacceptable.”
Richard Ratcliffe linked the latest development to the postponement of a hearing that was due to take place on Tuesday in London to address Iran’s longstanding demand for the repayment by Britain of hundreds of millions from an old military equipment order.
“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” he said, accusing Iran of “hostage diplomacy.”