In the run-up to the Astana conference next week, north-west Syria witnessed significant escalations involving all sides and their international backers. Clashes flared between Turkish forces and the regime with Russian backing, as the two sides traded rounds of artillery fire over the demarcation line in the southern Idlib countryside. However, indicated from the placement of regime forces, a larger offensive campaign remains unlikely for now.
Attached Map: Military Situation in North-West Syria – 1st July 2021
(The timeframe for this report is the month of June 2021)
Military Situation in Idlib
- Regime violations: Violent regime shelling on the Jabal Al-Zawiya area in south Idlib has dominated recent developments in north-west Syria. The regime has continued to regularly violate the ceasefire agreement, targeting a range of towns and villages across the region. In total, at least 31 civilians have been killed and 64 wounded during the month of June, including women and children. The intense bombardment on Jabal Al-Zawiya by regime and Russian forces, triggering a significant wave of civilian displacement that has increased pressure on IDP camps in the Syria-Turkey border. 13 civilians were killed in a single day in bombardment of multiple areas of south Idlib (10.6). Regime forces also bombarded the cemetery of the town of Efes with mortars while civilians were there to bury a deceased local resident, resulting in the deaths of three civilians and the injuring of six others (23.06). The regime also responded to shelling by Fatah al-Mabin with strikes against the towns of San and Safhunin. Many of those civilians either killed or displaced were those who had been previously displaced from the areas but returned believing it was safe, and in particular came to take part in the harvest for seasonal fruit at the start of the summer.
- Russian violations: Russian warplanes bombarded homes in the vicinity of Ein Sheb village, southwest of Idlib city, with vacuum missiles. The bombing was limited to material damage and destruction of civilian homes and private property (24.6). Further air raids took place in the Zayzon area in the Al-Ghab Plain, west of Hama (26.6).
- Turkey and pro-regime fighting: A serious escalation of tensions between Turkey, Russia and the regime erupted in several days of bloody back and forth retaliatory strikes in the southern Idlib countryside. Turkish forces targeted positions of the regime with heavy artillery near the towns of Kafranbel, Khan al-Subul, Maarat Hurmah, and Kafr Nabl (21.6, 22.6, 23.6). All three incidents resulted in casualties, killing and wounding an unspecified number of regime forces and Russian-backed militias. With the support of Russia, regime forces stationed in the vicinity of Maarat Hurmah, in the southern countryside of Idlib, retaliated by shelling the Turkish military base on the hill overlooking Kansafra in Jabal al-Zawiya (23.6). One of the shells fell in the middle of a gathering of Turkish forces in one of the guards of the northeastern side of the base, resulting in a number of wounded.
- Opposition & extremists’ violations: HTS and its hardliner allies have periodically shelling regime positions in recent weeks, primarily targeting sites in the southern Idlib and northern Latakia countryside. Artillery regiment of HTS targeted regime positions around the village of Al-Dana, while Fatah Al-Mabin struck regime-allied militias along the Salma axis in Jabal Akrad and with surface-to-surface missiles, followed by further bombardment targeting the Al-Malaja axis, around, Al-Zaytouna and Jabala (24.6, 26.6, 28.6). Fatah al-Mabin also struck several sites in Hama and southern Idlib, around the area of Jabal a-Zawiya.
- Turkish convoy: Turkey continues to supply Idlib despite the escalation. A Turkish military convoy comprising 30 armored vehicles, including tanks, made a round along the buffer zone running between the Idlib and Aleppo countryside (24.6).
Military & Political Developments
- HTS-Hurras Al-Din tensions: Amidst its ongoing efforts to roll back the influence of extremist Hurras al-Din in northwest Syria, HTS leaders have continued to clash publicly with the group. Rumors had been circulating that HTS were requesting all fighters from a specific Hurras al-Din faction depart from Syria. The group’s media wing clarified these rumors, stating that HTS was requesting the extradition of specific individuals accused of crimes who were serving under the leadership of a commander named Muslim al-Shishani.
- Demands for factional coordination: HTS is demanding that all factions and military groups in the area adhere to instructions issued by the Fateh al-Mabin Operations Room, in order not to target Syrian regime sites that house Russian or Iranian officers. Breaking with demands by HTS, militants of Hurras al-Din continues to carry out independent artillery and missile attacks against regime sites, pursuing their own military objectives.
- Coronavirus: The pandemic continues across northwest Syria, and the number of recorded cases has reached 25,189 since the start of the pandemic, while total deaths have climbed to 705 (20.6). The pace of infection has slowed somewhat in the past month, tapering downward to around 70 cases a day from more than 100 in May. Given the inadequate state of testing and medical care in the region however, this is still likely to be a significant undercount.