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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

People's Daily Online

Tailored attack likely to take place in Syria's Idlib

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 13:58, September 09, 2018

With the development of the anticipated battle to retake the last major rebel stronghold of Idlib province in northwestern Syria, the upcoming military campaign is likely to be limited, not a full-scale one.

In previous battles across the country, the rebels were forced to surrender and accept a deal to evacuate to Idlib.

Idlib has turned to the main destination for the defeated rebels, including al-Qaida-linked militants, which are the strongest among all other factions.

The turn of Idlib came after major victories and there is no place else for the rebels to evacuate to, as the Syrian army captured most of the country.

For the Syrian army and its Russian and Iranian allies, now is a golden opportunity to launch an offensive to defeat the rebels who are mostly gathered in Idlib.

But it is not an easy task, due to regional and international complications.

When the army started sending reinforcement to the frontline areas among the central Hama province, the northwestern province of Latakia and Idlib, the United States, Britain, and France issued a warning.

The warning was simply reviving old pretexts to threat with the use of force against the army.

The three powers alleged they had information that the Syrian army was planning a chemical attack in the upcoming battle in Idlib and warned that they would respond with force.

They had done it before in April when the three powers struck Syrian military positions over the same pretexts, which were slammed by Damascus and its allies as lies to justify foreign strikes.

This time, the Syria side and its allies also slammed the Western claims, saying the United States was plotting with the rebels to stage such an attack to justify another foreign attack on the Syrian army.

The U.S. administration has repeatedly warned against the battle, saying it would cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Turkish side, which is engaged with the Iranians and Russians in negotiations for the situation of Idlib, also warned against such operation.

A day earlier, the presidents of Turkey, Iran, and Russia met in the Iranian capital Tehran to discuss the situation in Idlib.

Despite previous arrangements between the officials of the three countries ahead of the meeting, differences were hard to be missed during the summit that was aired live by the Iranian TVs.

While Russia's Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani were heavily backing a military operation to get rid of the ultra-radical rebels in Idlib once and for all, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to the summit with a proposal.

The Turkish president proposed a cease-fire in Idlib, a suggestion that was not approved by the two other leaders.

Turkey is now in the eye of the tornado, especially after it had previously failed in persuading al-Qaida-linked militants to dissolve themselves.

It is worth noting that the Syrian government has prioritized the "reconciliation" deals in Idlib in tandem with the preparations for the battle.

Even now, the battle is expected to target the rebels who reject reconciliation and open the way for others to embrace the government deal, which was implemented in other parts of the country where the rebels laid down their weapons in exchange for an amnesty.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a recent report that the Nusra Front rounded up and killed tens of the advocates of the reconciliation with the government in Idlib.

The group has even issued a statement last month, stressing resolve to keep on fighting the Syrian army and to confront the attack on Idlib.

Maher Ihsan, a Syrian political analyst, told Xinhua that the battle in Idlib is inevitable. He said the al-Qaida-linked groups will likely refuse to surrender.

He noted that Turkey and the Western powers will more likely support a limited operation against the terror-designated groups, but now a full-scale one as Idlib is home to nearly 3 million people.

Ihsan also referred to the recent stance by Ankara, when it branded the Nusra as a terror group, "which is a green light that this group should be fought."

For his part, the retired Major-General Mohammad Abbas told Xinhua that the Idlib battle will take place and would be a "surgical one."

"It would be a partial one, meaning that it would hit certain targets," he said, adding that the Syrian forces have focused on, with artillery and airstrikes, specific targets of the Nusra Front and other radical groups in Idlib.

The preliminary targeting weakens the capabilities of the terror-labeled groups and when the army moves to the ground offensive, they will not have the strength to resist, he added.

Earlier on Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry was cited by local media outlets in Syria as saying that the rebels are expected to stage the chemical attack in certain areas in Idlib on Saturday evening.

But the Russian side seems determined to end the file of Idlib despite the Western threats as it has carried out war games off the Syrian coast after bringing in military fleets.

Bashar al-Jaafari, permanent representative of Syria to UN, said on Friday during a UN Security Council session that there are "50,000 terrorists" in Idlib, stressing the Syrian government's determination to capture all Syrian areas.

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