11:01 GMT09 May 2021
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    The Syrian army is preparing to take on the last terrorist stronghold in Idlib, Syria, as the US warns Damascus against the offensive and promises a "swift" response in case Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons. Sputnik spoke with Kevork Almassian, a journalist and founder of the analytical website Syrian Analysis, about the planned offensive.

    Almassian noted that Idlib province is the last remaining terrorist enclave, mostly controlled by Tahrir al-Sham*. He believes that the army will attack the region from several directions at once, namely from Aleppo, northern Hama and Latakia. The journalist is confident that the operation will first of all land a significant blow against Western proxies in the region, such as Tahrir al-Sham*, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham and others.

    READ MORE: France Vows to Respond in Case of Chemical Attack in Idlib — Defense Min.

    He further noted that with the help of these governments, the groups have created "a state inside of a state" and that Damascus now plans to re-impose its sovereignty over the territory. The journalist added that such an intention is in line with both international law and the Syrian constitution, but said that Western governments are likely to try to halt the military operation by "raising the topic of chemical weapons."

    "They will try to slow down the operation of the Syrian army by hitting certain Syrian army targets, if such chemical attacks happen," he said.

    Almassian revealed that the notorious NGO the White Helmets, which have been spotted working with terrorist groups and staging fake chemical attacks, have been infiltrated by members of the Syrian army. The journalist said that now these undercover agents are leaking information on where the group is moving its chemical weapons to stage another chemical attack. Almassian said that materials for the production of such weapons had been moved to an unnamed church and to a national hospital in the city of Jisr al-Shughur.

    "If the White Helmets will yield these chemical weapons… now we have information from underground that there are preparations for another chemical play in Idlib in order to accuse the Syrian government [and] to call for Americans, the Brits and the French to come and attack Syrian army positions," the journalist said.

    Turkish Position on Idlib Operation

    Almassian noted that Ankara's position on Damascus' offensive in Idlib varies, but said that the possibility of a direct confrontation between the two will actually depend on negotiations and cooperation between Russia and Turkey.

    "I believe the Turkish army will withdraw from their posts in southern Idlib and they will move their positions towards the northern part of Idlib until the Syrian army finishes its military operations in the southern part [of the province]," he added.

    He explained that due to economic problems and worsening relations with the US, Ankara has shifted its gaze towards cooperation with Moscow and that while relations between the two remain positive, the Syrian army will be able to liberate Idlib without interference from Turkey.

    Possible Casualties

    The journalist believes that the number of casualties among the civilian population heavily depends on the cooperation of the armed groups in Idlib with the Syrian government. He emphasized that Moscow and Damascus have on multiple occasions organized humanitarian corridors for civilians so that they could leave embattled areas.

    READ MORE: US Not Going to Cooperate With Russia on Idlib — Pentagon

    If the militants in Idlib allow such corridors (according to Almassian, they are heavily pressured by Western governments to do so), the number of civilian casualties will be reduced to a "minimum level," the journalist said. Another scenario, according to him, would be that the militants use civilians as human shields, which could lead to thousands of casualties.

    Kurdish Issue

    Almassian believes that despite Damascus' desire to regain control over all of Syria's territory, the Kurdish areas will be a special case. He noted that Kurdish representatives have already met with Syrian authorities and discussed their future relations. According to the journalist, Damascus is likely to make certain concessions to the Kurds, such as "cultural and social rights," but will not give them any sort of autonomy. He added that Syrian Kurds are also likely to get more seats in the parliament and posts in the country's government.

    READ MORE: Professor Estimates US Reaction to Possible Syrian Offensive in Idlib

    The journalist also noted that the US, which has a strong influence on the Kurds, has never tried to prevent a rapprochement between them and Damascus. He thinks if that were the case, the first negotiations would never have happened.

    Future US Steps in Syria

    Almassian believes that while Trump wants to withdraw from Syria, the CIA and the Pentagon are preventing him from doing so. The journalist added that the matter is likely tightly connected with the withdrawal of Hezbollah and Iranian forces from Syria.

    READ MORE: Success of Initiative on Truce in Idlib Relies on Turkey's Actions — Scholars

    He thinks that Washington could withdraw its troops if Tehran and Hezbollah do the same, but doubts it is possible, as the US is currently imposing sanctions against Iran, which is unlikely to foster any negotiations between the two sides.

    The views and opinions expressed are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    *Jabhat al-Nusra (also known as Tahrir al-Sham) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


    France Vows to Respond in Case of Chemical Attack in Idlib - Defense Min.
    French Volunteer: West May Use Idlib Battle as Excuse to Intervene in Syria
    US Not Going to Cooperate With Russia on Idlib - Pentagon
    Professor Estimates US Reaction to Possible Syrian Offensive in Idlib
    Success of Initiative on Truce in Idlib Relies on Turkey's Actions - Scholars
    'Inevitable' Op: Why Russia, Iran, Turkey Need to Solve Differences Over Idlib
    Terrorists in Syria's Idlib Active in Aggressive Way, Stage Attacks - Envoy
    Putin: Most Important Now is To Kick Terrorists Out of Syria's Idlib
    provocations, terrorist groups, military operation, military operation in Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, White Helmets, Turkey, Russia, US, Idlib, Syria
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