Tensions continue to rise in Syria as all the warring parties jockey for advantage. And a number of recent events demonstrate the fragility of the situation.
Yesterday, the Turkish military in Idlib broke up a protest along the all-important M4 highway on Monday after members of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a militia group, and civilians staged a sit-in on the highway.
HTS has frequently attempted to block Russian patrols along the area of the M4 highway, which connects Aleppo and Latakia. But this was the first time, that they attempted to block the Turkish forces.
Earlier, HTS militia members fired on a Turkish patrol. No Turkish troops were wounded in the incident, however, this unprovoked action prompted Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham leaders to reprimand their troops.
Although the Idlib area is relatively calm right now, after the most recent bout of violence, the Syrian Army has been moving troops into the surrounding region which gives the impression that soon their offensive to retake Idlib will resume.
On Friday, Turkish troops fired on Syrian and YPG militia units in the Tal Rifa’at District. Reports from witnesses stated that the Turks used artillery and rocket fire and that some of their fire hit civilian homes in the region
Meanwhile, Syrian and Iranian-proxy forces routed a band of ISIS fighters in eastern Syria and destroyed small staging bases that the terrorists use to launch attacks and store equipment. ISIS has been using the opportunity afforded by the coronavirus pandemic to strike multiple targets in eastern Syria.
Israel is also entangled in the situation. Recently, a Syrian corps commander met with Hezbollah units located close to the border with Israel. This prompted the Israelis to issue a stern warning. They’ve repeatedly said and acted upon the declaration that they will not accept Iranian or Iranian-proxy bases close to their borders.
And Russia has been staying active in all these: American troops recently blocked a Russian attempt of creating a proxy force from the ranks of the YPG/PKK militia group. According to sources, the Russians moved into the villages of Amuda and Tal Tamer, located east of the Euphrates River. American troops met several times with the local population asking them not to join the Russians.
The American troops warned the locals, according to sources, that “the Russians will send their proxy forces to fight in Libya.” Apparently the American argument worked since the Russians shut down their efforts with the YPG/PKK as their recruiting netted less than 100 people. Turkey considers the YPG/PKK militias as terrorists, which further complicates matters.
The Americans also sent large convoys of vehicles from Iraq to bases in Syria over the weekend. The American convoy reportedly traveled through the al-Hasakah Governorate eventually reaching the city of al-Shaddadi, where American-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are deployed.
Most of the U.S. troops are located in eastern Syria, but the all-important bases are along the border with Iraq. These bases stop the Iranians from bringing in large convoys of missiles and other arms and equipment through a “land bridge” from Iran to Iraq.
As you can see from the above, while the level of active fighting in Syria isn’t currently significant, with so many variables and different actors involved in a tense and volatile situation, it isn’t a question of “if” but when will something else explode.