Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 23 March 2021
Russia Resumes Bombing Campaign in Syria
Recent Russian air raids and the rise in Syrian artillery attacks do not mean the resuming of a land offensive in the last rebel-held province. Agreed on months ago, the balance of power in Syria should not see any shifts. Russia still has to observe its deal with Turkey even though it feels mounting pressure from al-Assad to thwart the rebellion by capturing Idlib province.
The Russian air force resumed missions in Syria after a long break. Russian jets hit rebel training camps in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border on March 21. The Syrian artillery on the same day also attacked a hospital in a rebel-controlled province, killing seven people and wounding 14 health care staff. A woman and a child were among the seven civilians killed when mortar rounds hit the hospital in the city of Atareb. The fire hit the hospital’s main entrance and courtyard inside a cave. The health facility was evacuated. The European Union and the United States have condemned the attack while the latter also expressed criticism of the Russian air raid near the Turkish border crossing in Bab al Hawa. Moreover, a gas facility was hit near Sarmada city in Idlib province. Moscow and Damascus have said the offensive was targeted solely at jihadi fighters while Turkey has urged Russia to stop the attack.
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The air raid and the joint Russian-Syrian artillery attack on Sunday fit into the recent rise in military tensions in the Idlib enclave. Before the raid, Russia warned against what it named as “false-flag” attacks prepared by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group in Idlib. But by doing so, Moscow again fabricated pretexts for acts of aggression in the province. Russian jets are believed to have struck a “rebel training camp” and trailers carrying goods near the border crossing of Bab al Hawa. Turkey condemned the attack by Russia and al-Assad but traditionally used them to achieve its goals. Its forces have neither responded nor encourage the allied group of jihadists in Idlib to take military reaction by assaulting government targets. The Turkish military took advantage of the whole situation by hitting targets elsewhere in Syria. As always, these were the forces of the mostly-Kurdish SDF coalition in northeast Syria. This confirms that Ankara treats the Idlib rebels instrumentally. Turkey, Russia, and Iran have an informal deal that allows Russia, al-Assad, and Shia militias to have a free hand to attack targets in Idlib and permit Turkey to fight with the Kurds. It is little important for Ankara to see Syrian opponents of al-Assad die as long as it can commit ethnic cleansing in the occupied northern part of Syria and to strike Syrian Kurds near the towns of Tell Rifaat or Ayn Issa.
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