Damascus (GPA) – Recent U.S. threats against Syria follow an escalating siege campaign to liberate Idlib: the last rebel-held stronghold in the country’s territory.
On Monday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian recognized President Bashar Al-Assad as the victor in the eight-year war in Syria, though warning the president will not “win the peace” without a political consensus from other interests.
Syrian military sources began deploying forces around Idlib and the greater Sahl al-Ghab province earlier this week, prompting responses from Turkey and the U.S. to protect the last Al-Nusra held opposition enclave.
Turkey began moving aircraft and armored vehicles towards in Idlib earlier this week, challenging the Syrian government’s commitment to dissolve al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The main group, al-Nusra (now widely known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), joins other groups threatened by the impending siege — some of whom were armed and funded by Turkey.
On Tuesday, the White House warned Syria that it would respond ‘swiftly and appropriately’ to a chemical weapons attack in Idlib, in light of Syria’s successes in liberating much of its territory in its final offensive focusing on the Hama province.
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That same day, Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) planes breached Lebanese airspace to strike military targets in Hama, killing one person and wounding 12. Israel has struck Syria around 200 times in the past two years, according to a senior IOF official on Tuesday, and local sources note that the occupying entity has begun striking Syria beginning in 2013, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah arms transfers that were fighting alongside Damascus.
According to Syrian state media, Syrian air defenses were able to intercept many of the missiles near Wadi Al-Uyun, about 65 km west of Hama.
Several Israeli missiles struck the Syrian village of Masyaf, home of a scientific military research site that has been the frequent target of IOF airstrike campaigns. In late July, Dr. Aziz Asber, the head of a scientific development center in the city, was killed in a car blast. Though terrorist group Abu-Amara originally claimed responsibility for the attack, Syrian press reports accused Israel of the plot.
Yesterday, Russia resumed air strikes against several rebel-held targets near Northwestern Idlib after three weeks of pause.
The four Russian airplanes hit targets belonging to the al-Nusra front in Syria, destroying an assembly site that terrorists were using to manufacture drones and stockpile explosives.
According to a Wednesday statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian drones also were able to destroy two drones on Tuesday night, according to Interfax headline reports.
In response, terror groups on Wednesday morning destroyed the al-Tuwain bridge in the northern Hama countryside, near where the army intercepted the Israeli missiles. The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that this was the third bridge attack by terrorist groups in the Al-Ghab plain.
Speaking to Russa’s Channel One on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it didn’t want the “repetition of failures” from the U.S. administration in separating terrorists from what it called “moderate rebels,” which he noted almost landed Damascus in the hands of ISIS in 2015.
“Idlib remains the only [zone] where tens of thousands of extremists are concentrated, spearheaded by Jabhat al-Nusra,” he said, noting Washington’s “subtle desire” to, rather, “get al-Nusra off the hook.”
The shelling preceeds talks between Iran, Russia, and Turkey on finding solutions to terminating the conflict in Syria, a conference to be held on Friday in Tehran.
Sources from both the United Nations and BBC say roughly 10,000 al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters are currently in Idlib.
Julia Kassem is an independent journalist based between Detroit and Beirut.