Syrian regime forces have violated an Idlib ceasefire agreement several times over the past two days, a local activist said Friday (March 20th), with regime forces and allied Iran-backed militias reinforcing their positions in the province.
The regime and its allies have moved fighters and military equipment into the final opposition stronghold, which indicates they may be preparing for imminent military action, Idlib activist Haisam al-Idlibi told Diyaruna.
Cautious calm has prevailed in the north-western province since a truce agreement between Turkey and Russia went into effect on March 6th.
But in recent hours, regime forces shelled the village of al-Najiya with heavy artillery, as well as the villages of al-Lamaidia and al-Tuffahiya in Jabal al-Turkman in northern rural Latakia, which borders Idlib, al-Idlibi said.
Other violations of the ceasefire have included an attempted regime advance towards the southern Idlib town of al-Feteera, he said.
Fierce clashes broke out earlier this week between regime forces and armed opposition groups that left four regime soldiers and one opposition fighter dead and dozens wounded on both sides, he said.
Regime forces had paved the way for the advance with heavy artillery, al-Idlibi said, noting that there were no civilian casualties as the local population had previously fled the area.
The southern Idlib town of Kansafra also came under fire ahead of the attempted advance, he said.
Regime allies reinforce positions
Al-Idlibi noted that regime-allied militias affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also are reinforcing their positions in Idlib.
New troop movements have been observed in the Jabal al-Zawiyah area and some points in southern rural Idlib, he said, noting that Hizbullah has reinforced its positions in the Saraqeb area with fighters and military equipment.
These reinforcements, which coincided with local resistance to reopening the M4 highway and demonstrations against Russian influence, indicate that the regime and its Russian backer are preparing for imminent military action, he said.
This has made civilians in Idlib apprehensive, al-Idlibi said, because military action is likely to include heavy airstrikes and shelling and may trigger a new wave of displacement.
The Turkish defence ministry said Thursday that two Turkish soldiers had been killed and another wounded in a rocket attack in Idlib, AFP reported.
The ministry blamed the attack on "some radical groups in the region", without elaborating further, adding that the army retaliated by hitting specified targets.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish army suffered casualties when two explosive charges blew up as a Turkish military convoy was passing on the M4 highway.