Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its allies in the northwestern Syrian region of Idlib, which is linked to al-Qaeda, escalate their attack against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), threatening the ceasefire.
The escalation began on August 26, when a tunnel bombing targeted an SAA position near the town of Milaya in southern Idlib province. Some 11 soldiers were killed in the attack and a subsequent raid. The attack was orchestrated by the HTS and one of its key allies, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Tawhid.
Immediately after the attack, Russian airpower began a series of airstrikes against HTS and its allies in the greater Idlib region. The SAA also resumed artillery strikes in the area. Most of the Russian and Syrian strikes targeted the outskirts of the town of al-Fatera, which is located just a few kilometers northwest of Milaya.
Despite heavy raids, at least 16 soldiers were killed on 1 September when HTS fighters stormed a position near the town of al-Sharaf in the countryside of northern Latakia.
The VKS and SAA escalated their strikes in the greater Idlib area after the deadly attack, inflicting more casualties on HTS and its allies.
The joint strikes ended on 9 September. The Syrian Defense Ministry said that several headquarters, fortifications, heavy weapons and ammunition depots of HTS and its allies in the southern province of Idlib and the northwestern province of Hama were destroyed.
According to the Ministry, at least 111 HTS, Ansar al-Tawhid and Turkistan Islamic Party fighters were killed in joint raids.
On September 10, the Turkish military intervened and sent reinforcements to the wider Idlib region, where it maintains dozens of positions to supposedly monitor the ceasefire. The reinforcements were deployed near the front line in the southern countryside of Idlib.
The reinforcements were likely sent to prevent the SAA and its allies from resuming ground operations in the area.
Despite the heavy losses suffered in the recent Syrian and Russian raids, the HTS and its allies attempted to launch two raids in the southern province of Idlib and the western province of Aleppo on 12 September. However, both attempts were intercepted by the SAA and several fighters were killed.
The ceasefire in the wider Idlib region remains in place. However, it could collapse if HTS and its allies continue to escalate. Turkey's unwillingness to withdraw its military from the region means that any new ground operation by the SAA and its allies will lead to a dangerous confrontation. This appears to be the ultimate goal of the HTS and its allies, who understand that they will not survive for long if Ankara and Damascus reach a normalization agreement.