It is finally a victory for Syria as the last insurgent group moved off from Khan Sheikhun in northwest Syria. The raging war for possession of the Idlib province has now gone into the favor of the pro-government forces to come in and take charge.
This development comes after Turkey moved in a convoy to replenish its post just north of the town, overlooking the main road between Idlib city and Hama province. Khan Sheikhun falls between both these regions and therefore became a piece of meat everyone wanted.
Recently, reports had come in that Assad forces had tried to airstrike the convoy but were unsuccessful in creating any major damage. Russia had supported the airstrike carried out by a sophisticated drone employed by Bashir-Al- Assad led forces.
The withdrawal comes after pro-government forces were finally able to surround the strategic town. It is also an aftermath of days of fierce fighting between rebel factions and Russia-backed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
However, the withdrawal may simply be a redeployment strategy and temporary relief. A statement to the media confirms this thought. The main group in the area, Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate, has described the withdrawal as ‘a redeployment’ stating that its fighters withdrew to the southern part of Khan Sheikhoun from where they would continue to defend their territory.
Khan Sheikhoun, one of the northwestern province’s largest towns is known to have been under rebel hands since 2014. The town is home to about one million people, nearly 700,000 of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country, before the government offensive began on April 2017. In recent days hundreds of civilians still remain in the town.
Syrian liberation means different things to different nations that are neck-deep into their war. For Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran, it means different advantages altogether.
That is one reason they have long pushed for a political solution to Syria’s crisis. For one, Turkey, a full-throated supporter of opposition groups in the conflict’s early years, views the aftermath as a chance to change the dynamic with Kurds near the border. Russia and Iran are looking to recoup heavy investments in blood and treasure that they have made in defense of Assad.