As Bashar Assad plans to launch an offensive into Idlib, the last major bastion of political and military opposition, sources have said that regime forces and Iranian militia are aiming to establish influence and control over the Aleppo-Latakia trade route after the northwestern province is taken under control. The Aleppo-Latakia route starts from Saudi Arabia and reaches Aleppo, from there it goes through Idlib and ends at Latakia's ports. Sources have said that the regime's biggest supporter on ground, the Iranian militia, will be aiming to ensure it has control over the route by placing its forces in the area.
While the Assad regime is aiming to announce to the world that "it won the civil war" by taking Idlib, Russia has also been planning to stop attacks from Idlib to its bases in Latakia.
The civil war in Syria seems to be nearing its end, yet officials have been voicing their concerns that an offensive toward Idlib would end in catastrophe and ignite new conflicts in the region. According to reports, while Assad will be launching a ground offensive, Russia is expected to support the regime from the air.
Syrian opposition fighters blew up bridges Friday and dug trenches around their bases to impede an anticipated ground offensive on their last major stronghold in the country. They also called on residents to take up arms and support frontline fighters.
The looming battle for Idlib in northwestern Syria may be the last in the bloody seven years of conflict, which have backed hundreds of thousands of civilians into this deadly corner of the country with nowhere to run.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian forces have deployed at least 2,000 armored vehicles along the front lines surrounding Idlib and Hama.An offensive is likely to first strike southwest Idlib and al-Ghab plains, which overlook the coastal area where Russia has its military and naval bases. Another front for the offensive is from the south and southeast, which would restore regime control over an essential highway that runs between Syria's major cities.
The area, controlled by opposition since 2015, has been targeted by regime and Russian strikes for months, leaving its infrastructure, schools and hospitals in desperate conditions. Now a wide-scale offensive is in the offing, with Damascus and its allies intent on making it a defining moment in the seven-year conflict.
Cornered between a tightly sealed border with Turkey and regime areas, residents of the oppositions' last bastion also live among the most battle-hardened fighters from all over Syria and thousands of foreign fighters make up a significant part of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (or Levant Liberation Committee), an al-Qaida-linked group that controls most of the territory. For those fighters, the battle for Idlib will likely be the last showdown with the regime and they are expected to put up a hard fight.
Ankara has been strongly warning against any attack on the town, underscoring the high number of civilians living in the town. In case of military conflicts, Turkey which has 12 observation points in the region has been increasing its measures. Ankara has also intensified its efforts against the possibility of a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria's Idlib province by a Syrian regime attack that would cause massive casualties.In relation to the issue, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Friday that such an attack would be a disaster for both Syria and Idlib. Meanwhile, truckloads of U.N. humanitarian aid entered through the Cilvegözü Border Gate on Friday in Reyhanlı town of the Hatay province in southern Turkey to be distributed to the needy in Idlib.
"There are a group of extremists here. We have been aware of that since the very beginning. They have been sent from Aleppo and other places deliberately. We need to work together to distinguish these groups from the others and neutralize them. This is the healthiest way [for a solution]," Çavuşoğlu said recently during his visit to Vienna for an informal meeting of foreign ministers from the EU and candidate countries.