Defeating terrorists in Idlib is the key to ending Syria’s eight-year-old civil war, President Bashar al-Assad said Tuesday, October 22 on his first visit to the embattled northwestern region since 2011.
“The battle of Idlib is the basis for resolving chaos and terrorism in all other areas of Syria,” Assad’s office quoted him as telling troops in the frontline town of Al-Hbeit.
It published a picture of the president surrounded by troops dressed in military fatigues, with maps hanging behind them.
His comments came as Syrian troops continued to deploy in parts of the north where they are supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces to contain a Turkish invasion.
The developments on Syria’s northern border “do not distract us from the importance of the Idlib front,” Assad said.
He said his troops have completed preparations for an offensive in Idlib and “are now ready to receive and execute the order when the time is right.”
After turning the tide of the war, Assad’s forces now control around 60% of the country and the president has repeatedly vowed to return all of it to his control, including Idlib.
The Idlib region, which has about three million residents, half of them displaced from other parts of the country, is the last major rebel bastion in Syria.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance with links to al-Qaeda, extended its administrative control over the whole of Idlib in January, but other rebel factions remain present.
In April, the Syrian government and its Russian allies launched an intensified bombardment of the region.
In August, government troops began a ground offensive that saw them retake several areas in southern Idlib, including the town of Al-Hbeit, which was among the first to fall.
An August 31 ceasefire brokered by Russia largely halted air strikes and clashes with heavy weapons, but skirmishes persist.
While the Idlib front has been relatively calm, Syrian troops this month deployed in the northeast as part of a deal with the SDF forces to protect them from Turkey-backed rebel groups who invaded in Operation Peace Spring.
The deployment is the army’s most significant in the Kurdish-controlled north and northeast since it pulled back from the region from 2012.
The Syrian war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
With reporting from AFP