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Who is behind latest assaults in opposition to Turkish presence in Idlib?

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Jan 22, 2021

IDLIB, Syria — A group that goes by the identify Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade claimed duty for an assault on a Turkish military publish within the western countryside of Aleppo on Jan. 16.

The group revealed an announcement on social media, saying that it had focused, with thermal snipers, one of many “main Turkish army bases” stationed within the village of Batbu, in western Aleppo, on the night of Jan. 16. According to the assertion, three Turkish troopers had been injured within the operation.

The group had first emerged in September 2020 and recognized itself as impartial and never affiliated with any faction or group. It claimed duty on the time for an assault on a navy publish of the Turkish military within the village of Salat al-Zohour within the countryside of Jisr al-Shughur within the northwestern countryside of Idlib.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) stated that on Jan. 3, an explosion near town of Maarat Misrin happened the place rocket-propelled grenades had been fired by unknown individuals at a Turkish car whereas it was passing by the village of Kafraya, in northern Idlib, with out details about casualties, noting that the safety forces of the Syrian opposition factions and the Turkish forces cordoned off the world.

The SOHR report continued that one other incident happened “on Dec. 7, 2020, when two members of the Islamic Sham Legion who worked as guards at the Turkish base in the town of Ram Hamdan, north of Idlib city, were injured, along with a Turkish soldier, after the base was targeted by unknown persons with a guided missile.”

Previously, an unknown group calling itself Khattab al-Shishani Brigades had claimed duty for a number of operations focusing on the joint Russian-Turkish patrols on the Aleppo-Latakia M4 worldwide freeway.

Abbas Sharifeh, a researcher on jihadist teams who lives between Turkey and the northern countryside of Aleppo, informed Al-Monitor, “I think there are three possible parties behind the targeting of the Turkish army in Idlib, including the Hurras al-Din cells affiliated with al-Qaeda, the cells affiliated with the regime and Iran, and those affiliated with the Islamic State [IS]. The Syrian regime believes that it is its patriotic duty to create hubs of popular resistance to confront what it describes as the ‘Turkish occupation,’ and since it is unable to confront Turkey directly, it resorts to these methods in order to disturb the Turkish presence and show the Turks that their withdrawal from Idlib and handing it over to the regime is the only way to guarantee the safety of their soldiers.”

Military and strategic analyst Brig. Gen. Ahmed Rahhal, who can also be a former chief of the Free Syrian Army, at the moment residing in Turkey, informed Al-Monitor, “There is more than one party that wants to obstruct the Turkish efforts in Idlib, on top of which is the Syrian regime, which seeks to eliminate the Turkish forces to pave the way for its offensive in Idlib. Among the most important parties that also have an interest in attacking the Turkish presence are the groups close to al-Qaeda, as they consider that the Russian-Turkish understanding on Idlib and the cease-fire agreement reached in Moscow on March 5, 2020, may end up eliminating them.”

He added, “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham [HTS] is not pleased with the understanding [cease-fire] that has been reached between Russia and Turkey, but it is forced to submit to it. HTS has two options: either a military confrontation with Turkey or submission to Turkey’s policy and its understandings with Russia regarding Idlib. Meanwhile, Turkey does not want to clash with HTS.”

Rahhal famous, “HTS is trying to appear moderate and close to Turkey, but it may be the one behind those operations in order to show Turkey that it pulls all the strings of the game in Idlib. The operations targeting Turkish forces will not stop in the future, but rather escalate.”

A jihadist chief nicknamed Abu Hafs al-Shami who resides in Idlib informed Al-Monitor, “Although many believe that the entities targeting the Turkish army may be groups affiliated with or linked to Hurras al-Din, these are mere speculations. These operations are more likely carried out by IS cells, those affiliated with either Russia or Iran, or both, and independent cells of unknown affiliation. The latter is more likely to be behind such operations.”

He added, “All of these possibilities are based on the different methods used during these operations. The attacks on the Turkish army on the M4 highway and targeting it in other locations such as the Jan. 16 attack all seem to have different objectives in terms of damage. However, in terms of the real goal, they all revolve around destabilizing the Turkish forces. As for the goals behind targeting Turkish soldiers in Idlib, they are either ideological — as is the case with jihadist groups — or political, serving the Russian interest.”

Shami famous, “Russia has not achieved real benefit from those operations that targeted the patrols on the M4 highway, except that it seemed to use this to prove that Idlib has terrorist groups and that the area is insecure and political progress is not possible in light of threats beyond Turkish control. Russia showcases all of this before the international opinion to continue with its policy of fighting all factions opposed to its ally Bashar al-Assad — be it moderate or hard-line factions.”

He confused that HTS doesn’t need the Turkish military to be focused so as to present that it managed to regulate the world and succeeded in offering a strong safety mannequin able to making it the one pressure that may be relied upon in any attainable worldwide settlement on Idlib.

Shami identified that if these operations in opposition to the Turkish military had been to proceed or escalate, HTS could be harmed, as this is able to imply that it was unable to regulate the cells focusing on the Turkish military, and this harms the picture of a powerful, organized entity that it’s attempting to convey.

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