Turkey ships arms to Syria rebels, with Idlib offensive ‘possibly on hold’

Date of publication: 13 September, 2018

Turkey has reportedly shipped arms to Syrian rebels ahead of a planned regime offensive on Idlib province – which now might be have been put on hold.

Syrian rebel commanders told Reuters that Ankara has sent weapons and ammunition to opposition forces in Idlib, to stave off an offensive.

Now it appears the planned assault on the last rebel stronghold in Syria might be put on ice, as pro-regime media accounts report that the battle plan has been postponed until a later date.

“So it seems Idlib ops (divided into 3 stages) has been moved for a further date,” tweeted one account.

This could be due to the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran could have concluded that their forces would face much stronger resistance from the rebels in Idlib, than previously considered.

Turkey’s vocal resistance to the offensive might have also been a stumbling block, with Ankara a key part of the Russian and Iranian-sponsored Astana peace process.

Turkey has suggested it would assist the rebels if such an attack takes place, and allow the Idlib garrisons of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to be bolstered by the Ankara-sponsored Euphrates Shield force in northern Syria.

“They pledged complete Turkish military support for a long, protracted battle,” an FSA commander told the news agency.

Among the weaponry to enter Idlib in recent days are Grad missiles, the FSA officer told the agency.

“These arms supplies and munitions will allow the battle to extend and ensure our supplies are not drained in a war of attrition… The Turks are making sure they have enough munitions that keep them going for a long while,” he added.

Turkey has been trying to isolate moderate rebel forces from jihadi organisations – such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – in Idlib, as talk of a regime-Iranian-Russian offensive builds.

A unified rebel force – known as the the National Front for Liberation – has been formed in Idlib with Turkish assistance, which is a mostly FSA-aligned movement that numbers around 30,000 fighters.

Ankara overtures to HTS fighters to join the new movement and disassociate themselves from jihadi ideology have not yet been successful.

It comes as Turkey held last-minute talks with Bashar al-Assad’s allies – Russia and Iran – last week, but Ankara’s hopes of a ceasefire being brokered fell through.

The expected offensive on Idlib has not yet started, but reports suggest that Russia has given Turkey more time to separate “extremists” from “moderates” in the opposition province.

Reports from rebel fighters in Idlib also suggest heightened tensions – that led to thousands of civilians fleeing their homes – have died down in recent days.

This was backed by rebel commanders’ comments to the Daily Beast, saying they think the regime’s offensive has been postponed due to Damascus’ failure to gather enough troops and fighters for the offensive.

Regime forces have managed to take back most of Syria in recent months – such as Eastern Ghouta and Daraa – but these areas were relatively isolated, with the rebel groups lacked strong foreign support.

In Idlib, the rebels there have the advantage of Turkey as a patron. ( The New Arab )