Airstrikes near Idlib mark Russian offensive?

Russian fighter jet taking off (AP photo).

Reports on Saturday said the Russian air force had violated Turkish air space and bombed Ahrar al-Sham and other Free Syrian Army (FSA) positions.

According to Reuters, several raids were carried out including on Babeska, a village in the Idlib province known as an FSA stronghold.

Russia, Iran and Turkey are the guarantors of a nationwide Syrian ceasefire since 30 December 2016 but many violations have been reported since. The Russian Defence Ministry said that the Russian side in the Russian-Turkish commission on the ceasefire had registered 15 violations over the past 24 hours.

The airstrikes could mark the beginning of a Russian advance towards Idlib with the Syrian army from the south. Commentators have said the Russians are hoping that the Kurds establish a front line in the north and a commander of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) has expressed the possibility of joining in on an Idlib operation.

Idlib was captured by Islamic fundamentalist groups led by former al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, later known as Fateh al-Sham, and today as Hayʼat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

American journalist Theo Padnos told Russia Today that a second Islamic State is being formed in the Syrian city of Idlib near the Turkish border as opposition groups from many different areas defeated in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus have been “shipped up to this north-western corner of Syria, around Idlib.”