IDLIB, Syria (North Press) – Residents of Zawiya Mountain, in southern Idlib, fear the renewal of military campaigns by Russian-backed Syrian government forces after losing confidence in Turkish promises following its agreements with Russia and its handing over of certain areas to the Syrian government.
Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an agreement on March 5 regarding Idlib, which resulted in a ceasefire and a security corridor on either side of the M4 Highway. However, the fate of Zawiya Mountain remains unknown, leaving tens of thousands of local civilians anxious of what awaits them.
Zawiya Mountain resident and activist Mohammad Idlibi told North Press that "intense shelling, in conjunction with intensive flights of Russian military aircraft in the areas of Zawiya Mountain and Ghab Plain in Hama's western countryside, increase people's fears of new military operations, and the repetition of the Hama and Maarat Numan scenarios."
He added that "people in areas south of the M4 Highway do not trust Turkey anymore, especially after its agreements with Russia, through which it handed over areas in Hama and Maarat Numan to the Syrian government," pointing to the residents' dissatisfaction about the absence of a Turkish role, especially with the recent buildup of government troops on the outskirts of Zawiya Mountain.
Local sources told North Press about an upcoming military operation in Idlib, starting from Hadada in the countryside of Latakia and areas in Zawiya Mountain.
Zohir Khaled, a resident in the town of Rami in Zawiya Mountain, accused Turkey of agreeing with Russia to hand over areas to the Syrian government without fighting, "like in Kafer Nubl, Maarat Numan, and Hama countryside...Turkish-backed opposition groups cannot move without Erdogan's orders."
Khaled stated that Turkey cares only about its own interests in the region, adding that Turkey "does not care about residents, whether they die or are displaced."
Hundreds of families were unable to return to Zawiya Mountain after they were displaced during battles in 2019 and 2020. Their return is tied to existing Turkish promises and guarantees, though there is a lack of confidence in Turkish forces and bases in the region.
"Syrian government forces have been preparing and mobilizing on the outskirts of Zawiya Mountain for weeks," a military source from the National Front for Liberation (a Turkish-backed Syrian opposition coalition) told North Press.
He added that "In the case of a Syrian government forces' attack, Turkish-backed opposition groups in the area would counter the attack with the support of Turkey to take back control over areas of Kafer Nubl, Has, Kafer Roma and Hish, north of Khan Sheikhoun."
He added that a government attack would mainly target areas east of Idlib, and that "opposition groups may retreat to Foaa town, according to Russian-Turkish agreements. In turn, opposition groups will take control over the area extending from Kafer Nubl in the north to the Khan Sheikhoun - Habit road in the south, and from Kafer Nubl in the west to the town of Ghadfa, east of Maarat Numan."
The source excluded the possibility of Turkey and their affiliated opposition groups retaking Khan Sheikhoun or even towns and villages in Hama's northern countryside, as "Khan Sheikhoun city will be a crossing or service center", according to the map that Turkish forces showed them.