After the advance of Syrian government forces in the Syrian province of Idlib, the largest rebel group has withdrawn. The troops of ruler Bashar al-Assad had occupied parts of the city Chan Schaichun to the northwest of the country during the night. Thousands of people are fleeing because of the new escalation.
Chan Schaichun has been held by rebels for five years and is considered one of the last important insurgent posts in the Syrian civil war. The largest group of rebels, al-Qaeda-affiliated organization Hajat Tahrir al-Sham, announced the retreat of their fighters. It is about a "re-stationing". In the future, the rebels wanted to defend their territory from positions south of the city of Chan Sheikhun. Turkey's National Liberation Front also confirmed its withdrawal. The backup of the supply routes was no longer guaranteed.
According to opposition activists, government forces with the support of Russian fighter planes have invaded a part of Chan Sheikhun. There, the troops had eliminated, inter alia, explosives and booby traps. Syrian state television reported that government forces had expanded their presence around the Chan Sheikhun area.
Russia and the Syrian government call the rebels in Idlib terrorists. They have always been excluded from truce agreements. The region is dominated by a militia close to al Qaeda. In recent years, insurgents from other parts of the country have often been brought to Idlib, or allowed to move from besieged cities to Idlib after government agreements. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that in Idlib and Russian soldiers are in action. "Of course we are not just following the situation, our soldiers are on the ground there," he said.
Threatens escalation with Turkey?
Syria's President al-Assad said: "The achievements achieved show the determination of the people and the army to beat terrorists until all parts of Syria are liberated." According to state news agency Sana, Assad accused Western and regional powers - namely Turkey - of supporting terrorists in Idlib. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Idlib was a critical issue in view of the future of Syria. "So we have to guarantee a ceasefire here." But "because the Syrian regime does not believe in a political solution, it now seeks a military solution."
At the end of April, the offensive of the Syrian government troops with Russian support started on northern parts of the provinces of Hama and Idlib. Since then, more than 2,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled north. In the contested area there is also a Turkish observation post. The government in Ankara announced that Turkey had no intention of evacuating the observation post. Overall, Turkey has twelve such posts in the region.
Only on Monday had Turkey announced that a convoy of 50 Turkish military vehicles was bombed from the air. Three civilians died, twelve others were injured. It is still unclear whether Syrian or Russian fighter aircraft are responsible for the air strikes. The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the convoy was to bring weapons to Chan Schaichun. Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu warned that the Syrian government should not "play with fire".