Militants in Idlib governorate and its vicinity are sharpening their knives and cleaning their rifles in preparation for the great, and maybe final, battle of Syria’s war.
On one side, there are eight Russian navy ships equipped with cruise missiles, tens of thousands of Syrian regime troops and Iran’s multinational militias; while on the other side is the so-called Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which includes: Al-Nusra Front, Khalid ibn Al-Walid Army, Jund Al-Sharia, Saraya Al-Sahel and Jaysh Al-Malahim, all of which are terrorist organizations and, intellectually, extensions of Al-Qaeda.
Moreover, most of these organizations' leaders are not Syrians, such as Abu Mariya Al-Jubouri Al-Qahtani, Abu Al-Yaqdhan Al-Masri and Al-Farghali.
The two parties fighting in Idlib, i.e. the Syrian regime and its allies the Iranian militias versus HTS, are the culprits who brought destruction and bloodshed to Syria during the past seven years. They have avoided direct clashes in the past, as each needed the other in this war. The terror groups have given legitimacy to the Syrian regime and polished its image, while the Syrian regime, by massacring and displacing millions of civilians – often for sectarian reasons – has given terror groups the incentive and publicity to recruit militants from across the world in order to fight in a horrendous sectarian war.
The two parties fighting in Idlib, i.e. the Syrian regime and its allies the Iranian militias versus HTS, are the culprits who brought destruction and bloodshed to Syria during the past seven years. They have avoided direct clashes in the past, as each needed the other in this war. The terror groups have given legitimacy to the Syrian regime and polished its image, while the Syrian regime, by massacring and displacing millions of civilians – often for sectarian reasons – has given terror groups the incentive and publicity to recruit militants from across the world in order to fight in a horrendous sectarian warAbdulrahman Al-Rashed
Most of the previous battles waged by both parties targeted the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has never included foreign militants or used jihadist slogans, but posed the real threat to the regime as it was the national alternative supported by the region’s states and the West.
Idlib province, which borders Turkey, eventually became a refuge for terrorists who fled eastern and southern Syria toward the Turkish border. As for Turkey, it has closed its border in their faces and mobilized its troops to stop infiltrators and fugitives. Today, Idlib’s worst fate is looming as a result of the massive military build-up, and concerns have increased after Russia’s warnings of imminent chemical attacks. These warnings made many question Russia’s motives and expect its forces, along with those of the Syrian regime, to commit such a crime, based on previous experiences.
Amidst this alarming situation, more than three million people live in Idlib province, half of whom are not local residents but displaced people who took refuge there after fleeing the attacks of either the Iranian militias or ISIS and its likes. Inhabitants are not allowed to leave the province’s cities and towns as they are being used as human shields and hostages in the face of intensive military attacks. Therefore, if the war erupts in Idlib within the next few days - as the Iranians, Syrian regime, and Russian military leaders are warning - we may witness the greatest massacre in the history of Syria’s war. This is what made the UN special envoy and mediator, Staffan de Mistura, say that it would be a “tragic irony” at the end of the war inside Syria with a “most horrific tragedy” involving large numbers of civilians.
However, it was both disappointing and surprising that the UN envoy made justifications and provocative statements when he claimed that there were 10,000 terrorists in Idlib. Indeed, there is a large number of terrorist HTS militants, but the exact figure de Mistura has mentioned seems grossly exaggerated unless he possesses accurate and detailed information, which he then must present to the media. Furthermore, when he said he feared that “the two sides” would use chemical weapons, the Russians and the Syrian regime celebrated his statement, claiming terrorists were preparing to carry out chemical attacks. Again, if de Mistura really possessed solid information about such attacks, he must bring it forward, instead of making general statements that lay the groundwork for approaching crimes.
We heard before the Syrian regime’s claims about terror groups being the ones who used chlorine gas and other prohibited weapons, but all conclusive evidence proved that the regime was the only side that had used these weapons. This does not mean that HTS was innocent of committing horrendous crimes against civilians, but it wasn’t known for possessing or using such weapons – at least in its previously documented attacks.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.