idlib syrian army
© Reuters TV
A still image taken from a video shows Syrian army soldiers walking as they advance on the town of Kfar Nabl, Syria.
Turkey and Russia recently agreed on a ceasefire for the northwest region of Syria following a military campaign that saw extensive gains for Syrian government forces and allies, though some of those gains were reversed by the insurgents thanks to direct Turkish military support. However, the agreement between Turkey and Russia is a significant setback to Turkish president Erdogan's previous calls for a reversion to the previous lines agreed at Sochi in 2018. In effect, the main gains of the Syrian government and its allies have been solidified, most notably along the M5 highway. The new agreement is also more specific than the Sochi agreement in calling for the elimination of 'terrorist' groups as designated by the UN Security Council (UNSC). This would include Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the main insurgent faction in Idlib and its environs.

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has issued its own statement on the new Turkey-Russia agreement, which I translate in full for this post. In sum:
  • The path of the armed resistance and jihad should continue, however high the cost. In mentioning the political and civil administration in the north the group is essentially defending the Salvation Government project it has backed against some criticisms that the focus on civil administration and governance detracted from necessary military preparations against the enemy.
  • The group rejects the idea Russia can be trusted as a guarantor of a long-term ceasefire, but rather it is simply working to enable its ally the Syrian government. It will not be long before a new betrayal against the revolution occurs.
  • The agreement effectively enables Russia to gain control of areas without a fight, at a time when the insurgent factions had regained the initiative.
  • The Turkish government is to be thanked for its stance in support of the revolution and the civilians. But completeness of the help should be in restoring the displaced people to their localities (i.e. the military efforts it had launched should have been continued).
Below is the full statement with translation

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham

The Moscow Agreement: A New Mirage

Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds, and the best prayers and most complete salutations be upon our Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and all his family and companions. As for what follows:

The people of al-Sham have not despaired from seeking their freedom and dignity before the tyranny of iron and fire, and those enduring hearts have not lost thinking well of their Lord that the deliverance is near, and that victory is a bounty from God that He grants as and when He wills, and however much falsehood gains supremacy and becomes inflated, for truth is a firm principle that triumphs over it.

And this is the course of ten continual years of the blessed Syrian revolution and three-hundred days of fierce battles in defence of the capital of the revolution and its civilization in the liberated north, supported by its mujahideen hero sons, and their civil and political administration with a slogan written in blood: death and not humiliation, for there is no return or compromising on the aims of the blessed revolution.

The jihad and resistance are a legitimate path for the peoples whose abode has been usurped, and freedom taken captive, and sons bound behind bars, so let them defend themselves and their land by force and arms and patience and insistence and in that the rights are regained, and the fate of the lands is that they should return to their people however long the night of the oppressors lasts and the occupier through its grip takes root over the hearts of the defenceless peoples.

And the field is the launching point for building the projects and forming its politics, and the mujahideen are the front of the events and its makers, and there is no dignified life without sacrifice and expenditure, and no glory without force and might.

Before this principle all agreements and statements that concern the fate of our revolution are considered, and the priority of defending the people and their rights is placed at the head of the priorities and the first of the political considerations, for bitter, failed experiments have occurred during the past years with deluding the people that there will be a calm dignified life, but it has not taken long until they are used by the criminal gang in Damascus, supported by Russia and Iran, for a new campaign under false pretexts. And our people and liberated areas have been paying the price of that from their abode and blood.

The recent agreement signed in Moscow concerning the ceasefire is nothing new from its predecessor agreements, and its days will not pass until there is another betrayal against the revolution, and that is principally because the Russian occupier is expending its political and military effort to enable the criminal regime to occupy the areas again and displace their people and destroy their infrastructure and educational institutions. This agreement is marred by obscurity and floating platitudes that allow for the Russian occupier to make use of it for new aggression. Likewise in it are clauses that cannot be applied at all, and are also to be considered a degradation and humiliation against the blood of the martyrs and the sacrifices of ten continual years, like allowing the Russian occupier to gain control over liberated areas peacefully without war and fighting.

Comment: In other words, it's a pretty good deal. If HTS does like it, it must be!

The past time witnessed the military factions regain the initiative as they recovered 20 villages in Jabal al-Zawiya and a number of localities in the surrounding of Saraqeb, and the enemy has become threatened on other fronts that have been on the point of being liberated again, in addition to the destruction of elite forces equally among the Iranian occupier and the Assad militias, and hundreds of heavy vehicles and artillery pieces.

We thank the Turkish government for clearly standing with and supporting the Syrian revolution and participating with it in defending the civilians and protecting them in the recent battle, but the completeness of help and relief will be in returning them to their localities and towns from which they were forcibly displaced under the scorched earth policy, for the Assad militias cannot tolerate the graves of the dead, so how can the living feel safe to live under their rule again?!

So there is no victory for our revolution without continuing the struggle against our enemy however much it costs, for it is a great revolution we transmit to whoever comes after us in blood and we write as an ennobled history. And there is no security or peace in Syria except by removing this criminal gang.

And finally, we counsel our revolutionary mujahideen sons and our people in the liberated areas to renew the pledge and proceed to realize the aims of the revolution in fulfilment to those who have sacrificed and endured and expended and been displaced from their abode, until Syria returns free, dignified and defiant.

And know that the only language of use with the occupier is the language of force and arms, so seek help in God the Mighty and Powerful.

And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.

12 Rajab 1441 AH/7 March 2020 CE.