Damascus, yesterday, announced the opening of a crossing for the exit of civilians wishing from the area that has witnessed a military escalation for months in Idlib and its environs to areas controlled by the army, the day after its takeover of the strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun and besieged several villages and towns under the control of HTS and other factions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Russian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Iranian Hassan Rouhani, at a summit in Ankara to discuss the Syrian issue on September 16, according to the Turkish presidency.
In detail, Damascus announced the opening of a humanitarian crossing in the Soran area in the northern countryside of Hama under the protection of Syrian Arab Army forces, the official SANA news agency quoted a source at the Foreign Ministry as saying.
The source explained that the goal is to "enable citizens wishing to leave the areas under the control of terrorists in the northern countryside of Hama and southern Idlib" towards the areas of army control in the governorate of Hama (central).
State television showed pictures of green buses waiting at the Souran crossing.
The army often uses the strategy of opening the crossings to civilians after the siege of areas under the control of the opposition factions is about to regain control, through evacuation agreements or military action, such as what happened in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus or the city of Aleppo (north).
Many residents of opposition-controlled cities and towns are reluctant to move out of the army, fearing arrest or compulsory military service. It usually takes time and forces residents to leave as the bombing intensifies.
On Sunday, the army took control of the strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun in the southern countryside of Idlib, where the international road connecting Aleppo to Damascus passes. It was able to impose a siege on an area stretching south of Khan Sheikhoun to the northern countryside of Hama, and closed all outlets to Turkish forces at the largest observation post in the town of Morak in northern Hama.
Turkish forces supporting the opposition are present at this point, among others, under the agreement with Russia.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that armed and opposition factions had withdrawn from the northern countryside of Hama, a charge denied by HTS (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), which controls most of Idlib province and its surrounding areas, and where less powerful opposition factions are also deployed.
The southern region of Idlib and northern Hama witnessed massive waves of displacement, and most of the population fled to the north of Idlib, on the escalation that began at the end of April, killing about 900 civilians, according to the Observatory.
More than 400,000 people have fled the region to safer areas, especially near the Turkish border, the UN said.
According to the Observatory, the besieged area is now virtually empty, with most of the residents of the northern Hama and Idlib rural areas fleeing.
Russian and Syrian warplanes are still bombing several areas in the southern countryside outside the besieged area, most notably the town of Maarat al-Numan north of Khan Sheikhoun, which the director of the observatory Rami Abdul Rahman is likely to launch an attack on the army.
The Kremlin welcomed the Syrian army's takeover of Khan Sheikhoun, and his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Turkish and Russian presidents could make a phone call "in the coming days."
The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, the importance of agreements on Idlib, said: «In this context, we continue our cooperation with Turkey within the framework of the Sochi Agreement».
The developments come after days of tension between Damascus and Ankara against the backdrop of the army forces cut off the international road north of Khan Sheikhoun in front of a Turkish military convoy heading to Mork, and then blockade the Turkish observation point there.
The ceasefire agreement in Idlib provided for the establishment of a demilitarized zone that would separate the army and the factions from which the militants would withdraw, which did not happen. After signing the agreement, the agreement was relatively calm, before the Syrian army stepped up.
In a new development, according to the Turkish news agency «Anatolia» that the Syrian aircraft opened fire machine guns, yesterday, near a Turkish observation post. The observatory confirmed Syrian air raids on an area 300 meters from a point in the village of Sorman east of Maarat al-Numan.
In Ankara, spokesman for the Turkish presidency, Ibrahim Kalin, that «the (Turkish) president will host a tripartite summit with the participation of Russia and Iran in Ankara». The three presidents - Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani - will discuss the situation in Idlib, the formation of a constitutional committee, and how the political process will continue, Kalin said.
"It is not possible to close or move the ninth observation post," he said. He added that «the ninth observation center remains in place, and all other observation centers scheduled or set up under the Idlib Agreement, will continue to work in place».
Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib.
Kalin said Erdogan would make a phone call to Putin in the coming days, adding that preparations were underway for another phone call with US President Donald Trump.