After the “Sochi meeting”, an escalation in Idlib and Damascus talks about a “battle atmosphere”

The meeting between the Turkish and Russian presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, ended two days ago. Contrary to the expectations that were filtered from their statements, the military escalation renewed in the Syrian province of Idlib, where the Russian warplanes carried out several strikes on Friday morning, in conjunction with artillery and missile shelling, which resulted in the killing of a woman in her sixties and the injury of others.

There were conflicting accounts about the reasons for the renewed bombing. While close to the Syrian regime considered it a prelude to an expected military action in the coming days, Turkish political researchers and military leaders indicated that it is evidence that a new agreement has not been reached between Erdogan and Putin regarding Idlib, where more than 4 million civilians live.

In the past two days, Turkish media and newspapers reported that the “Putin-Erdogan summit” was not ordinary, as it came in a sensitive international circumstance, and was limited only to the “face-to-face” meeting between the two presidents, away from the participation of other parties and delegations.

It was remarkable after the meeting that the two presidents did not go out in a press conference, so the details were limited to statements made by Erdogan to Turkish journalists, and another statement issued by the Kremlin simultaneously, Thursday.

Erdogan said, according to what was reported by Turkish state television, on Thursday, that he discussed with his Russian counterpart ways to reach a “final and sustainable” solution to the Syrian file, especially in Idlib, noting that he and Putin had set a road map on which the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries would rely.

He added, during his return from Russia, that the summit was “fruitful”, and that his country “continues to adhere to every issue it agreed upon with Russia regarding Syria, and there is no turning back from that.”

On the other hand, the Kremlin statement stated that “Putin and Erdogan have agreed to abide by all agreements concluded on the Syrian province of Idlib.”

He added, “It was stressed the need to implement the agreements reached previously, especially the expulsion of terrorist groups that are still present in Idlib,” without mentioning additional details about the detailed points discussed by the two sides in the Syrian file.

Turkish National Security Council

One day after his return from Sochi, the Turkish National Security Council met with Erdogan, and issued a statement Thursday declaring that “targeting civilians and harming stability in Syria upsets the fragile balance in the region, and prevents a lasting solution to the conflict.”

The statement stated that “the responsibilities of the actors and parties involved in the Syrian affairs regarding achieving peace, stability and prosperity for the Syrian people were emphasized.”

The National Security Council did not specifically mention Idlib governorate, contrary to the statements it had been issuing in the past months, after its announced meetings.

Turkish political researcher, Muhannad Hafizoglu, says that the information that came out of Erdogan and Putin’s meeting is very little, because “the dialogue was very private.”

The researcher added to Al-Hurra: “However, it is expected that military operations will continue, whether on the part of the Syrian regime or on the part of Russia, for a certain period.”

Hafizoglu reads the renewed bombing of Idlib as carrying a Russian message to Turkey that “we are independent in our decision, and that when we want to stop operations, we will decide that, not under pressure from Turkey in particular or from anyone else.”

The Turkish researcher did not rule out any role for Iran in the current escalation, noting, “The Iranian side may pressure the Syrian regime, in order to carry out military operations unilaterally.”

The bombing in Idlib on Friday morning was of two types. The first was missile and artillery, with which the Syrian regime forces targeted a gathering of displaced people’s tents in the northern countryside, in addition to villages and towns located along the international road Aleppo-Latakia (M4).

As for the other type, it was from the Russian warplanes, which targeted the town of Al-Ziyara in the countryside of Hama and the Jabal Al-Arba’een area near the city of Jericho, according to what the “Syrian Civil Defense,” a humanitarian organization active in the northern Syrian regions, said.

“Other results”

In contrast to the Idlib governorate file, the details of which are still “fuzzy” until now, Erdogan spoke of “positive results” after his meeting with Putin, especially those related to energy, economy and cooperation in other fields, especially the S-400 air defense system deal.

And the deal is still a stumbling block in the way of relations between Turkey and its NATO ally, the United States of America.

Washington had renewed its warnings to Ankara in the past two days against proceeding with any new military agreement with Moscow, and that this would lead to the imposition of additional CAATSA sanctions separate from those imposed in December 2020.

Hisham Gunay, a researcher in Turkish political affairs, believes that the Turkish president did not “get what he had aspired to in his recent visit to Sochi.”

He told Al-Hurra: “Putin also had conditions and did not concede to them, and the evidence for that is the bombing and violations of the outputs of the Astana track and the de-escalation agreements that were announced.”

Junay believes that Erdogan’s failure to hold a press conference after the summit “indicates that there was no aforementioned agreement reached between the two parties, despite all the Turkish statements that tried to rapprochement with Moscow regarding the establishment of new nuclear plants, and to emphasize the continuity of the S-400 deal.” .

The researcher added that several situations had arisen before Erdogan and Putin met, which made the latter “look at the Turkish administration with reservation and mistrust.”

Among those stances are recent Turkish statements, which considered “Russia is the occupier of the Crimea.”

Erdogan is scheduled to meet with his American counterpart, Joe Biden, in Rome in late October, according to what Erdogan announced.

“We will have a meeting in Rome with Biden. What will be the US approach to Syria? We will have the opportunity to talk about it,” he told reporters.

“No one knows what happened.”

For more than a year, Russia says Turkey has not fulfilled its commitments to the agreement signed between Erdogan and Putin on Idlib in March 2020.

At that time, the two parties agreed on a ceasefire in the Syrian province of Idlib along the front line between the opposition factions and the Syrian regime forces, to be followed by the establishment of a “security corridor” six kilometers to the north and six kilometers to the south on the main international highway in Idlib. “Mother 4”.

The road links the Syrian regime-controlled cities in Aleppo and Latakia, and for several months it witnessed the conduct of Russian-Turkish patrols, but they soon stopped, amid conflicting accounts between Moscow and Ankara about the reason for this.

Captain Abd al-Salam Abd al-Razzaq, a leader in the opposition factions in northern Syria, indicated that the military escalation on Idlib had preceded the Turkish-Russian summit “in order to achieve gains.”

In an interview with Al-Hurra, he believes that its continuation at the present time may be linked to “an attempt to change the reality on the ground, or it is a prelude to a new agreement on Idlib. More precisely, it is a revival of what was agreed upon years ago according to the Sochi maps and the M4 road.”

Abdel-Razzaq continues: “Perhaps the area around the road will be emptied in order to conduct new patrols and reopen it.”

On the other hand, media activists from Idlib told Al-Hurra website that fears of any military action in the province “still exist,” and indicated that “no one knows what happened.”

Media activist Ahmed al-Atrash said: “After the first day of the Sochi summit passed quietly, there was great optimism among civilians residing in northwest Syria that both presidents agreed on a solution.”

He added to the Al-Hurra website: “But on Friday morning, optimism became non-existent, with a violent escalation by the regime forces and their ally Russia in the region.”

Al-Atrash believes that the escalation “does not pave the way for a phase of calm and resolution, but rather for a phase of escalation in the region aimed at seizing new lands, silently by the Turkish guarantor, who is now occupying many military points south of Idlib, without moving and responding to the bombing.”

He continues: “This bombing portends a real tragedy and threatens the security of the displaced in southern Idlib.”

“Battle Atmosphere”

On the other side of the scene, journalists and people close to the Syrian regime included the renewed bombing of Idlib under the category “preparing for military action in the coming days.”

The semi-official Al-Watan newspaper published a report on Friday under the title “Has the Idlib battle begun?”, in which it said that “since the early morning hours, the Syrian army targeted terrorist sites in separate areas in the countryside of Idlib.”

She added: “The army bombed with missiles the terrorists’ sites in the vicinity of Marian, Kefraya, Maarat Misrin and Jisr al-Shughur.”

For his part, the spokesman for the “reconciliation committees” in Syria, Omar Rahmon, who resides in Damascus, says: “Putin and Erdogan have not agreed on anything and the battle is coming, it is only a matter of a short time.”

And he adds in a correspondence with Al-Hurra website: “Now we have entered the atmosphere of the battle.”

Rahmon did not answer the nature of the “expected battle” that he talked about, and did not comment on a question related to its mechanism, especially with the presence of thousands of Turkish soldiers on a long area that extends along the international road “M4”.

The reinforcements did not stop.

During the past months, the Turkish army did not stop bringing military reinforcements into Idlib, including armored vehicles and tanks, accompanied by thousands of soldiers from the Special Forces.

These forces were mainly stationed on both sides of the international road “M4”, and they settled in small camps, on ruling hills and strategic areas that reveal large areas of Idlib and Hama countryside.

Despite the absence of any official statistics or data specifying the size of Turkey’s military equipment in Idlib, military leaders from the Syrian factions confirmed in a previous interview to Al-Hurra that the number of Turkish soldiers in the region has now exceeded six thousand, in the Jabal Al-Zawiya area alone. It is the region that is considered the most prominent gates of Idlib from the south.

And one of the leaders added, in December 2020, that the Turkish army at that time set out to construct concrete berms (walls) in several locations on the Aleppo-Lattakia (M4) international road, in a step that comes to prevent pedestrians from being targeted on the road on the one hand, and to protect the established military points. On both sides of the highway there are shells and missiles of the Syrian regime forces on the other hand.

 
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