Syria war
image via flickr

Syria’s opposition forces recede from the last scene of resistance in Syria war in Idlib as Assad forces cleared the last rebel-held province, northwest of the country. Khan Sheikhoun is one of the major towns of Idlib, and is strategically located between the capital Damascus and Aleppo. It had been under opposition control since 2014.

The Syrian forces loyal to Assad and backed by his powerful Russian allies surrounded the town on Monday where clashes continued for three consecutive days before the eventual withdrawal of the rebel forces. The besieged rebel forces, some of which are supported by Turkey, fled early on Thursday, according to Aljazeera.

According to local sources, the rebels have withdrawn for now towards the north and east, only to regroup. The sources also say that the opposition fighters who have retreated from the area were from the rebel faction Jaish al-Izza and from Turkish-backed Al-Jabha al-Wataniya Lil-Tahrir (the National Liberation Front), a loose coalition of moderate opposition groups.

However, the statement from the main armed opposition group in the area, Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate, trivialized the opposition’s withdrawal as “redeployment”. The group said that its fighters withdrew to the south of Khan Sheikhoun from where they would continue to defend their territory.

Will Peace Follow the Newly Gained Stability?

With the regaining of Idlib and its largest town Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might have obtained the long-sought stability. But will peace follow the newly-gained stability, is a question that still goes unanswered.

Since the Arab Spring of 2011, Syria has become a battle-ground following President Bashar al-Assad’s mishandling of pro-democracy protests. The peaceful protests whose demands were in line with many protestors in other North-African countries where simultaneous revolutions were coinciding with each other. However, unlike Tunisia, the country where the Arab Spring originated, no country presented a success story with regard to the abrupt change of government. Yet, no country presented a bloodier picture than Syria, where over 500000 civilians have either lost their lives or are still missing, according to BBC.

By 2017, the Assad regime had almost secured the victory in a highly complex war in which various stakeholders ranging from pro-democracy groups to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had jumped in. Syria war, which had become a battleground for not only the major regional players but also the global power like the United States. However, it was Russia which finally proved to be the game changer and which pushed away from the US from the active war scene.

In July 2017, the remaining key players in Syria war concluded a de-escalation agreement. Under this agreement, Russia, Turkey, and Iran established 12 observation points across opposition-held territories in western Aleppo, northern Hama and Adlib. Now, one of those observation points became the reason for renewed tensions between Syria and Turkey.

On Monday, Syrian raids struck a military convoy making its way to Idlib, leading to one of Ankara’s observation points in Morek, Syria. The Turkish defense ministry said that it was sent to protect civilians in the region. However, the Syrian government said that the convoy was carrying ammunition aimed at reinforcing the Turkish-backed opposition forces. The incidence has caused a war of words exchanged between the two countries, with Turkey warning Syria “not to play with fire”.

Ultimately, taking back control of Khan Sheikhoun is a strategic victory for the Syrian regime of Assad. His government had been fighting to take control of the strategic M5 highway since 2014. The control over this major Idlib town will allow the government to control and boost trade now.

But will stability and peace, the twin sisters, would return together in Syria: only time will tell. So far, the residents of Khan Sheikhoun have deserted the town to amass near Syria-Turkey border in order to escape the bombardment. Currently, there are virtually no civilians in the area. They are waiting to return when the crisis is over. But will the crisis over following this stability is difficult to predict!