By Selen Temizer, Burak Karacaoglu and Esref Musa
IDLIB, Syria (AA) – As the world braces for the Assad regime to attack Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, more than 70,000 fighters remain determined to defend the city.
Moderate Syrian opposition groups are the main force now controlling Idlib. And it is these groups that plan to defend the city against a looming attack by the regime and its allies.
The moderate opposition, along with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, currently share control of Idlib’s de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Last month, 14 moderate opposition factions unified under a single umbrella group dubbed the National Liberation Front (NLF).
The new group includes factions of the Sham Legion; the Jaysh al-Nasr; the Free Idlib Army; the First Coast Division; the Second Coast Division; the First Division; the Second Army; the Elite Army; the Martyrs of Daraya al-Salam; the Hourya Brigade; Brigade 23; the Syrian Liberation Front; the Jaysh al-Ahrar; and the Suqour al-Sham Brigades.
The NLF, which maintains a presence in Idlib and Hama provinces and can field some 70,000 fighters, constitutes the primary force fighting the Assad regime.
An Anadolu Agency correspondent based in the region said the Syrian opposition had reinforced its positions — on all fronts — in anticipation of an expected regime assault.
Apart from the opposition, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, another powerful force in the region, was drawn up from about 25,000 fighters after the Nusra Front was disbanded last year.
Recent months have seen the group’s ranks shrink as a several factions operating under its umbrella disbanded.
Several thousand of these fighters later formed a new group dubbed “Guardians of the Religion”, which is known to be affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Since Sept. 1, at least 30 civilians have been killed in Idlib and Hama — and dozens injured — by airstrikes and attacks by regime and Russian warplanes, according to the White Helmets civil defense agency.
The Syrian regime recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which remains under the control of various armed opposition groups.
Last week, the UN warned that such an offensive would likely lead to the “worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century”.