The tenuous ceasefire in Syria that was signed by Turkey and Russia is in danger of falling apart as various factions are maneuvering forces for what seems an inevitable resumption of hostilities in northern Syria. 

The Syrian army of President Assad is intent on pushing the rebel forces out of their last stronghold in Idlib province.  The Turkish army is backing the rebel forces in Idlib. The Russians, who support the Assad regime have provided air support and airstrikes against the rebels but do not want to get into any conflict with Turkey: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying to gain influence with the Turks and President Erdogan for several years. 

The civilians in Idlib remain stuck in the middle: There are already three and a half million refugees in Turkey, who have fled the civil war; nearly a million more, trying to escape the fighting that has gone on in Idlib since December, are in makeshift camps near the Turkish border.

The Turks have been establishing strong points in key locations around the city of Idlib. They have set up observation posts near Jisr al-Shughur city, in the town of al-Ghassaneyah, and west of Jisr al-Shughur in the area outside of Idlib. The Turkish troops have also established three other military posts in al-Misherfah and Tel Khattab villages near the border with Hama Governorate, south of Jisr al-Shughur.

Their intent is to expand and strengthen the access areas to the northern and western sections of Idlib in an attempt to prevent the Syrian military’s plan to open and secure the vital M4 highway.

The Turks and the Russians agreed to the ceasefire and planned to conduct joint patrols along the area of the M4 but they have had little success in doing so thus far. The first patrol was cut short on March 16 after hundreds of people blocked the road and then climbed on top of the patrolling armored vehicles.

Russia said at the time that the patrol was interrupted by “rebel provocations.” The civilians who blocked the Russian convoy were thought to be loyal to a rebel militia that is neither part of the Turkish alliance nor the Syrian regime. The second patrol, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, was also cut short due to “security concerns.”

Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian forces launched a missile attack towards al-Bara, Afes, and Kafar Aweed towns in southern Idlib province.