Russia resumed airstrikes after a three-week hiatus with at least ten warplanes. Trump warns Moscow and Damascus. In the province, rebel groups prepare their resistance amid doubts about Turkish support. If the city “falls, we'll all end up in the cemetery,” said a source in the besieged city.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – The joint Russian-Syrian offensive against rebel-held Idlib, in north-western Syria, began this morning with a series of Russian airstrikes.
Renewed fighting after a three-week hiatus is a signal that the Syrian regime and its allies are ready for a final push, raising concerns in the local Church and international organisations about the evolving situation, especially as it impacts on civilians.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), "Russian warplanes resumed bombing Idlib province after a 22-day pause.” This comes after rebel units in Idlib hit government positions in neighbouring Latakia province.
Tuesday's bombardment hit several areas held by the jihadist-led Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, among them the large town of Jisr al-Shughur, but also areas held by rival Turkish-backed rebels, including the town of Ariha. No details are available about casualties among anti-regime forces.
According to some diplomatic sources, the offensive against the rebel-held province is gearing up to be Russia’s largest air campaign of the year.
The morning’s attack involved at least ten Sukhoi fighter planes carrying out more than 50 raids in the southern and eastern parts of the province, which is home to about three million people, a third of whom displaced from other parts of Syria.
Before the attack, US President Donald Trump issued a warning against Moscow and Damascus. On Twitter, the US leader warned Assad that he “must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!”
For their part, rebel groups appear to be getting ready for the government attack and willing to fight until the end to defend their stronghold.
Contrary to previous cases in Aleppo, Ghouta or Deraa where rebels worked out a deal with the Syrian regime to leave through humanitarian corridors, Idlib is their final stand. There is no escape route to any other part of the country.
"We have no other place to go, so it's clear that we will defend ourselves," said a fighter named Abdelrahmane, speaking to Lebanese French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour. “In the area you can breathe an atmosphere that varies from anguish to optimism. I'm sure nothing will happen. The Turks are ready to send more reinforcements".
Despite such hope in Turkish support, Ankara is not likely to provide any military aid or even let the rebels cross into its territory given its current economic woes.
"Will there be a battle? When it happens, we will think about it and make provisions," said another rebel, Aya Fadel.
Today Idlib is home to displaced people from eastern Ghouta. One of them is Walid Awata, a doctor who lives in Afrin but provides his medical services throughout the province, including to rebel groups.
"Idlib is not like all other regions," he warns. "Today it is considered the soul of the revolution, because it is the last bastion, the last place on the chessboard. If it falls, we'll all end up in the cemetery."