Though Syria has long fallen out of featured coverage in international media, it appears the war to take back Idlib province is heating up once again. Recall that on prior occasions over the past few years Washington has threatened some level of military intervention each time Syria and Russia prepared to finally liberate the northwest region from al-Qaeda and Turkish-backed jihadists (especially connected with ‘rebel’ claims of chemical weapons usage by government forces).
On Monday Russian jets pounded a camp full of Turkish-backed militants in Idlib, killing at least 70. Some media sources are reporting possibly over 70 killed and 100+ injured, making it one of the single deadliest airstrikes of the entire almost decade long war.
“The strike targeted the group Faylaq al-Sham, whose base is near several refugee camps in the heavily populated province of Idlib,” The New York Times reports.
And further according to the report, it’s likely to escalate tensions with Turkey, given not only Faylaq al-Sham works closely with Turkey’s military and intelligence, but also given the strike happened so close to the border.
The fighters’ camp was at Kafr Takharim, near the Turkish border. The attack was the most violent breach of a cease-fire agreement that Russia and Turkey reached in March. Russia has occasionally made smaller strikes on militant groups, but such a large strike so close to the Turkish border is unusual.
The earliest reports put the death toll at over 34, which continued to rise through the day. The NY Times notes further that “Video footage from the scene showed the bodies of at least a dozen fighters wrapped in blankets on the floor of a clinic.”
Previous Russian-Turkey ceasefire agreements related to Idlib have been conditioned on Turkey rooting out clearly designated terrorist groups. However, groups which Turkey and the West have dubbed “moderate” are often seen by Russia and Damascus as terrorists.
In this case the Western allies that have been covertly involved in Syria have long thought of Faylaq al-Sham as supposedly moderate. Russia clearly thought otherwise.
Currently, some analysts are speculating that Russia could be sending a message to Turkey at a moment Ankara’s army appears to be getting more deeply involved supporting its ally Azerbaijan against Armenia in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.