Russian aircraft along with the Syrian army have attacked rebel areas in Idlib and Afrin in recent weeks, in violation of the ceasefire agreement

New ceasefire breaches in Idlib worry the UN

photo_camera PHOTO/ANAS ALKHARBOUTLI - A member of the Turkish-backed Syrian militia in the northern Syrian city of Manbij

Bashar al-Assad's Syrian National Army has been bombing rebel positions in Idlib in northwestern Syria in recent hours. The shelling marks the first break in the ceasefire in the region for more than a year, making it the largest escalation since the ceasefire was signed in 2020. The official report states that the shelling has caused at least 4 deaths and 15 injuries.

In addition, government forces have carried out airstrikes in areas near the border with Turkey and artillery attacks on the villages of Fattire, Binin and Shinan in the Jabal Zawiya region. These attacks violate a truce reached in 2017 between Turkey, Russia and Iran in which it was agreed to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib.


For its part, during the month of August, Russian aircraft have intensified their bombing in the Syrian Kurdish canton of Afrin, occupied by Turkish forces since 2019, a year in which clashes between YPG (People's Protection Units) forces and the Turkish army intensified.

In the face of these new offensives, the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, has condemned the "intensification" of air strikes and bombings that have caused "the largest displacement recorded since March 2020".

The powder keg in northern Syria

Several states want to gain a presence and influence in northern Syria. After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in October 2019 that his military offensive on Syrian territory bordering Turkey was "imminent", the United States ordered the withdrawal of its troops.

The aim of the Turkish troops was to wipe out the Kurdish-Syrian YPG and YPJ militias, allies of Washington, but considered "terrorists" by Ankara because of their links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). A year earlier, Turkish offensives managed to dislodge the Kurdish units by occupying the Afrin canton and a year later carried out the same attacks in the northern towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al In.


The Kurdish-majority territory of Afrin is now under the control of Turkey and groups linked to Ankara and the Turkish army, among whom it is believed that they may be spreading far-right ideas driven by the radical 'grey wolves' movement. This group intertwines an ideological current that exalts "the dream" of restoring a Caliphate, under the orders and control of the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was this motive that led the president to seek a "militia" alliance with this organisation after approving a coalition with the National Movement Party, a far-right political group from which the Grey Wolves emanate and which allows Erdogan to hold on to power.

In the framework of Turkish operations for control of the region, Erdogan approved the 'Spring of Peace' operation, which aimed to 'establish a security zone' covering 480 kilometres from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border in order to reduce the Turkish presence and also to distribute a large part of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country.


However, the Kurds have seen their hopes of establishing an autonomous province fade. The Kurdish militias once controlled 30 per cent of the territory, including important oil wells, but have now been forced to withdraw from their positions following the strong Turkish presence.

For its part, Russia has distanced itself from the Turkish strategy to position itself on the side of al-Assad, as evidenced by the various offensives by Russian aircraft in Idlib in recent weeks. Previously, both Russia and Turkey had strengthened their cooperative relations since 2016, but disagreements over control of the city have caused some rifts between the two countries. Moreover, in Syrian-Russian offensives waged against Idlib, Turkey accused Russia of 'participating in the massacre of civilians', while the Russian country accused the former Ottoman power of 'not complying with agreements aimed at containing hostilities in the volatile region and aggravating the situation'.


Even so, Russia sought to portray itself as a mediator between Syrian and Turkish forces, both of which have been allies of the Kremlin to some extent and with which it has sought to build a peace process in Syria.

On the other hand, various jihadist and radical groups control about half of the city and it remains the main bastion of resistance to al-Assad. For the most part, the stronghold is reportedly under the control of Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda. However, the armed wing, branded as terrorist by the UN, denies any connection with Al-Qaeda.


Alongside this, the region is home to 2.9 million people. According to data collected by the UN, two thirds of them are displaced people who left rebel strongholds as al-Assad recaptured positions. Today, more than a million of them are living in camps under very poor conditions.

Moreover, Syria has already made it clear that it intends to recapture the entire territory. In this regard, al-Assad's army managed to recapture territory along a strategic highway that isolates Idlib and links Aleppo with the province of Latakia, a stronghold of the Assad family.

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