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Charles Lister @Charles_Lister
, 26 tweets, 34 min read Read on Twitter
Amid #Assad regime offensive in south #Syria, worth bearing in mind its continued bombing of areas in #Idlib - also under a so-called “de-escalation zone.”

Having watched the southern zone dissolved w/o response from #Jordan or #Israel, #Turkey’s now warning #Idlib = “red line."
#Turkey has deployed its own armed forces to x12 “observation posts” fencing in opposition areas & enforcing de-escalation.

#Russia seems invested in stability in #Idlib - but for how long?

After #Deraa, will #Assad & #Iran destroy the last remaining “de-escalation zone”?
For now, expect periodic regime bombing raids & notably, also ‘spoiling’ attacks by fighters unrestrained by #Turkey’s iron grip.

#HTS will remain internally divided on de-escalation -- the more regime bombings, the heavier the pressure for #HTS to respond = #Assad opportunity.
Amid this foggy climate, expect #Turkey to accelerate attempts to fuse its proxies - from east-west, #EuphratesShield, #OliveBranch, western #Aleppo & into northern #Idlib - in an attempt to consolidate a more durable deterrent to any pro-#Assad attempt to break de-escalation.
There are big stakes to the future of #Idlib - it’s estimated to house 3.3 million people, a *massive* 30% of #Syria’s entire estimated 2017/18 population.

1.2 million are IDPs.

10,000s are armed fighters - many exiled from elsewhere.

#ISIS is trying to mount a comeback + AQ.
A mass outbreak of conflict in #Idlib is #Turkey’s nightmare scenario - refugee flows, threat to #TSK troops, jihadi spillover, etc.

BUT, a long-term opposition+Islamist+jihadi zone in #Idlib in close proximity to the #Assad regime’s coastal heartlands is similarly unacceptable.
In the end, the issue comes down to leverage:

- How much can #Russia control #Assad & #Iran’s long-term goals?

- How much can #Turkey influence mainstream opposition fighters & constrain jihadis itching to resume fighting?

- Can Al-Qaeda convince #HTS to ‘come back to fold’?
Despite sustained anti-#ISIS operations (mostly by #HTS) across #Idlib, it’s becoming increasingly clear that #ISIS is achieving some success in mounting a [v. slow, methodical] comeback in the NW #Syria province.

Today, Amaq issued a formal claim for an attack & a videoed IED.
Scary - #ISIS is now conducting motorbike drive-by assassinations in #Idlib, and publishing imagery online. This attack targeted FSA Jaish al-Izzeh fighters.

Eerily similar to #Iraq circa-2012-2014.

Watch this carefully - #ISIS has been preparing this ground for 1-2yrs.
Beyond #ISIS's destabilizing, another concerning development in #Idlib is the rising militarism of pro-#AlQaeda factions, whose actions appear - to all intents & purposes - designed to provoke a mass #Assad attack on the northwest, raising the prospect of conflict with #Turkey.
A recent attack on Jabal al-Turkman (by AQ-linked Huras al-Din, Turkestan Islamic Party, Ansar al-Tawhid, Forsan al-Iman & others) was the biggest assault on pro-#Assad forces in the NW in some time.

Such acts will eventually guarantee a catastrophic escalation in NW #Syria.
These provocations by AQ-linked factions come amidst an intense debate around the status of #Turkey & its presence in #Idlib.

#HTS remains internally divided on this tricky issue - something AQ seems determined to exacerbate & exploit.

Divide, divide, divide - just like #ISIS.
For more on the effect that the #Turkey & #Erdogan issue has had on the AQ-oriented jihadi movement in NW #Syria, read this great piece by @ToreRHamming in @jihadica:…
@ToreRHamming @jihadica This animated look at #Idlib by @CrisisGroup is well done & worth a read.

Their recommendations are spot on too - all too few have been willing to truly grasp the nuances of NW #Syria for use in smart policy proposals.
@ToreRHamming @jihadica @CrisisGroup In an interesting post, @LabibAlNahhas says #Syria’s opposition needs to break "out of its comfort zone” & develop “fresh realism”

- Consolidate the northwest as a “safe-haven", dissolve armed groups, build credibility & seek joint #Turkey-US protection.…
@ToreRHamming @jihadica @CrisisGroup @LabibAlNahhas x15 #ISIS prisoners just escaped from a Faylaq al-Sham prison in northern #Syria, according to @saleelalmajd1.

A further 20 reportedly escaped from an Ahrar al-Sham facility a month ago, and 20+ more from a prison at Bab al-Hawa, near #Turkey.
@ToreRHamming @jihadica @CrisisGroup @LabibAlNahhas @saleelalmajd1 #ISIS allegedly offers $20,000 per prisoner allowed to escape from opposition prisons for smuggling back into operations - a prospect too tempting to many otherwise deeply hostile to #ISIS.

#Syria #Idlib #Aleppo
Rumors floating around in #Idlib that #Turkey is paying opposition groups to share coordinates of AQ/Huras al-Din facilities; something AQ-linked people like "al-Ansar al-Barqawi” deem “treachery” (via @IbnNabih1).

Such intel sharing is a fact & not new - ongoing for 6months+.
@IbnNabih1 BIG news - Senior #HTS official Abdulrahim Attoun (Abu Abdullah al-Shami) has been assassinated outside Marat al-Numan in #Idlib.

#ISIS is suspected.

Attoun was #HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani’s loyal right-hand man - a staunch defender of the evolution away from Al-Qaeda.
@IbnNabih1 #Attoun is widely accused of lying to cover up #Jolani’s early willingness to break away from AQ command in '16-17, to personally protect him from criticism.

#Attoun has also been cut off from several family members, due to longer-term accusations of dishonesty & double-dealing.
@IbnNabih1 Some possible room for skepticism on reports of #Attoun’s death - as per @IbnNabih1’s tweet below.

Some initial information sent my way was from ordinarily reliable sources, but only time will tell. #Idlib #Syria
@IbnNabih1 The world’s first “jihadi PMC” - staffed by #Russia-speaking former soldiers - offers “elite" training on “high-profile combat & infiltration operations” in NW #Syria.

- Last week, AQ-linked militants trained by “Malhama Tactical” killed 20+ in #Latakia.

@IbnNabih1 NEW - A deal has been reached between #HTS & #Iran to evacuate besieged villages of Fuah & Kafraya in #Idlib, in exchange for a sizable release of opposition prisoners (including 30+ senior Nusra figures).

Sources say evacuations are to begin tomorrow. Money changed hands too.
Worrying - pro-#Assad forces have shelled #Turkey armed forces at their observation post near Jisr al-Shughour tonight.

Unclear if any casualties, but #Turkish jets have entered Syrian airspace in response.

#Ankara has warned: #Idlib is a redline.
An unnamed #PYD/#SDC source says the #YPG/#SDF may assist #Assad in a future attack on #Idlib.

That’ll definitely contribute towards de-escalation - #Turkey would go nuts.…
BREAKING - After several secretive preparatory/scoping meetings, the [U.S-backed] #PYD/#SDC is “in #Damascus to discuss administrative & military matters,” as per its President, Riad Dirar.

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