Russian and Syrian warplanes struck a Turkish convoy Monday allegedly carrying military supplies for Turkey-allied rebels who have joined forces with al-Qaeda-linked jihadis in Syria’s Idlib province, a monitor group reported.
With the fall of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) territorial caliphate in March, Idlib province is the last rebel stronghold in Syria, primarily controlled by the jihadis.
The Turkish Defense Ministry “strongly” rebuked the air attack, saying it killed three civilians and wounded 12 others, France 24 noted.
Syria accused the Turkey of loading up the convoy with “ammunition, weapons, and material” destined to the rebels and jihadis in in Idlib besieged by dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its allies, the Washington Post noted.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighters from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group control the most of the area in and around Idlib. In May, Turkey-backed rebels allied themselves with the al-Qaeda-linked jihadis against their common enemy — the Iranian and Russian-backed regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Idlib borders U.S. NATO ally Turkey. In late June, the U.S. targeted the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists working with Turkey, marking the first time America strikes the jihadi group in two years.
The Bashar al-Assad regime referred to the Turkish convoy as “a stark violation of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Washington Post pointed out.
“Despite repeated warnings we made to the authorities of the Russian Federation, the military operations by the regime forces continue in Idlib region in violation of the existing memorandums and agreements with the Russian Federation,” several news outlets quote the Turkish ministry as saying in a statement.
Assad ally Russia and pro-opposition Turkey reached a deal in September 2018 to establish a buffer zone in Idlib, free of jihadis and their weapons, but they failed.
Although the HTS claims to have broken its ties to al-Qaeda, the U.S. believes the two are still affiliated. In the wake of the failed Turkey-Russia pact, the U.S. in June targeted the al-Qaeda-linked jihadis in Aleppo, which borders Idlib.
HTS jihadis have established their own Islamic emirate in and around Idlib, including areas in Aleppo and Hama.
The Turkey-Russia deal was intended to prevent an onslaught by the Assad regime. Since April, however, the Russian-backed Assad regime has been fighting to clear the region in and around Idlib of the last remaining rebel force, which now includes Turkey-backed fighters and jihadis.
On Monday the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that uses ground sources to monitor the conflict, reported that Russia and Syria continue to target the Turkish convoy.
The Observatory noted:
The Turkish Forces are still parked … in the southern countryside of Idlib without moving, because of the intensive missile shelling … [and] bombing by warplanes of the Russian “guarantor” and the Syrian regime’s warplanes … while the violent clashes continue in the southern and southeastern areas of Idlib province, between the rebel and Islamic factions and the jihadi groups [together] against the regime forces and militias loyal to them.
Meanwhile, the regime forces have failed to advance against the Turkey-backed rebels and their jihadi allies elsewhere in Idlib’s Khan Shaikhoun despite the “very violent clashes and hysterical bombardment” by Russian and Syrian warplanes.
The regime is fighting the rebels and jihadis for control of Khan Shaikhoun, a strategically important town held by the al-Qaeda-linked jihadis. It still on a key highway connecting Damascus to the northern city of Aleppo.
United Nations officials have documented 500 civilian deaths in and around Idlib in the past four months, Haaretz reported.
Several cease-fire agreements have collapsed in Idlib, including one struck early this month.
Citing the civilian casualties, the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led group, urged the international community to stop the “holocaust” playing out in Idlib.