Northwestern Syria offensive (November 2019–present)

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Northwestern Syria offensive (November 2019–Present)
Part of the Syrian Civil War
Maarat Al-Numan Offensive (2019).svg
Situation in Northwestern Syria as of 1 January 2020. Locations of Turkish and Russian outposts are pictured.
DateFirst phase:
24 November 2019 – 9 December 2019
(2 weeks and 1 day)
Second phase:
18 – 26 December 2019
(1 week and 1 day)
Third phase:
15 January 2020 – present
(5 days)
Northwestern Syria
Result Ongoing
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
Syrian National Army
Ajnad al-Kavkaz
Guardians of Religion Organization
Ansar al-Tawhid
Commanders and leaders
Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan (Leader of the 25th Special Mission Forces Division) Abu Mohammad al-Julani (Leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham)
Adnan Ahmed (Deputy Defense Minister of the Syrian Interim Government)
Units involved




Syrian National Army

Casualties and losses
316 killed[8][9][10]
4 Russian soldiers killed[11]
370 killed[8][9][10]
133 civilians killed[8][9][10]
235,000+ civilians displaced[12]

The northwestern Syria offensive is a military operation launched by the Syrian government and its allies against rebel forces in Idlib and surrounding provinces during the Syrian Civil War. The offensive began on 24 November 2019, with the Syrian military capturing more than 30 villages and towns from opposition forces in the Ma'arrat al-Nu'man countryside by mid-December 2019. The first phase of the offensive left 92,000 civilians displaced due to the fighting in Idlib and Hama.[13] Pro-government forces encircled the Turkish observation post in Sarman by late December.[14][15]


Months prior to the offensive earlier in the year, the Syrian government launched an offensive managing to capture parts of the Hama Governorate and southern parts of the Idlib Governorate underneath opposition control after months of fighting lasting from April to August 2019.


24 November—9 December 2019[edit]

On 24 November 2019, pro-Syrian government forces, supported by Russian airstrikes, entered the villages of Um al-Khalakhil, Dahret al-Zarzour, al-Sayeer and Msheirfeh. Syrian state media reported that several rebel fighters were killed during the operation.[citation needed]

On 25 November, a second advance was attempted by government forces targeting the village of al-Farjah, which Syrian state media reported as being under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).[16]

On 26 November, opposition media reported that the rebel "Fatah Mubieen Operations Room" repelled another attempted government advance on the Sahel village in Idlib's southeastern countryside.[17]

On 28 November, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham announced repelling a joint Iranian militia-Syrian advance on Kabani in northeastern Latakia Governorate, with pro-government forces withdrawing after hours of clashes. Russian warplanes were also reportedly seen during the assault.[18]

On 30 November, HTS and other opposition groups reportedly captured several villages near the Abu al-Duhur Military Airbase.[19]

On 1 December 2019, Ansar al-Tawhid released photos of the group firing improvised artillery at government forces in the southeastern Idlib countryside.[20][better source needed] On the same day, HTS, the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL), Ajnad al-Kavkaz, and Ansar al-Tawhid attacked additional villages from government forces, with fierce clashes occurring in the towns of Establat and Rassem Wared in which two war tanks and five transport vehicles were reportedly destroyed. During the rebel advance the Syrian military claimed to have destroyed two SVBIEDs near the town of Kafriya and repelled the joint rebel offensive.[21]

On 4 December, clashes continued[22] as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) seized a military base east of Umm al-Tinah village.[23]

On 9 December, the military bombarded rebel-held areas in the southern Idlib countryside, as well as portions of the western Aleppo countryside and parts of Aleppo city's outskirts.[24]

18—26 December 2019[edit]

Following an air bombing campaign, ground fighting resumed on 18 December 2019 after the 14th round of Astana negotiations in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan ended a few days prior without any definitive ceasefire agreement, reportedly due to the opposition's refusal to accept new Russian terms regarding control of Idlib.[25] As many as 200 Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Guardians of Religion Organization fighters jointly attacked Syrian government forces in the Umm al Khalakhil and Zarzur fronts. The Syrian military said they had repelled all attacks and that 12 pro-government fighters were injured and hospitalized. On the same day, Russian intelligence reported that 300 fighters from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army arrived in Idlib from Afrin in preparation for renewed fighting.[26]

On 19 December, pro-government media reported that the Syrian government had initiated the "second phase" of Operation Dawn of Idlib, the prior government offensive in summer 2019, with pro-government forces led by the 25th Special Mission Forces Division attacking several villages in southeastern Idlib Governorate, particularly along the Umm Jalal axis. A Syrian military source claimed the objective of the operation was to capture territory south of Ma'arrat al-Nu'man.[27]

On 21 December, several pro-government fighters were killed in an ambush by the NFL in Latakia, with several light weapons also reportedly captured.[28] On the same day the SNA also claimed to have killed an entire unit of pro-government fighters in southeastern Idlib.[29][better source needed]

By 22 December, government forces spearheaded by the 5th Corps and the 25th Special Mission Forces Division had made notable advances in the southeastern Idlib countryside, battling rebel units in the area and reportedly capturing over 15 towns and villages within a 48-hour period. According to frontline reports, the SAA death toll had risen to 40, with over 50 wounded. An SAA source claimed the opposition had suffered 70-80 dead.[30] During its advance, the Syrian army began encircling the Turkish observation point near Sarman.[31] On 23 December, the Syrian army advanced further, completely surrounding the Turkish observation point near Sarman[32] and capturing Jarjnaz, considered the largest town in the eastern countryside of Ma'arrat al-Nu'man.[33][34]

On 24 December, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other opposition elements launched a morning counterattack to retake Jarjnaz, reportedly recapturing the villages of Tell Mannas, al-Barsah, Farwan, and al-Ghadfah in the process; an SVBIED was deployed and attacked pro-government forces in Jarjnaz.[35][36] On the same day, HTS reportedly withdrew from its defensive positions in and around Ma’arat Al-Nu’man as well as other defensive positions in the southern Idlib countryside, handing control over to Ansar al-Tawhid which is part of Rouse the Believers Operations Room.[37] The Deputy Defense Minister of the Syrian Interim Government claimed that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham had blocked reinforcements sent by the National Army from areas in northern Aleppo such as Afrin to Idlib, and further claimed that the only National Army factions allowed into Idlib by HTS were the Levant Front, Ahrar al-Sharqiya and the Lions of the East Army. HTS denied the claims made by the deputy defense minister.[38]

On 25 December 2019, the Russian Air Force bombed a military convoy of Ahrar al-Sham moving near the town of Kafr Nubl in southern Idlib, killing an unknown number of its field commanders and militants. Allegedly, the general commander Abu Jaber al-Sheikh was injured in the strike. Additionally, a second airstrike hit a meeting of militant commanders in the city of Maarat al-Numan, which is the key militant stronghold in this part of Greater Idlib.[39]

On 26 December, ground advancements largely halted and both sides began shelling each others positions around Ma'arrat Al-Nu’man, with casualties being reported on both sides. Pro-government forces initiated shelling on the towns of Bernan, Farwan, Barissa, and Halban.[40] The following days both sides reported that they paused their operations in the Idlib region due to poor weather conditions. According to a military source in the Syrian army the air force was grounded because of limited visibility. [41] The NFL on their side was planning to launch a counterattack, but the weather conditions didn't help so the plan was cancelled. Instead, they brought reinforcements to their positions. [42]

Russia—Turkey ceasefire[edit]

According to a Russian major-general, a ceasefire was agreed with the Turkish side. The ceasefire was introduced in the Idlib de-escalation zone starting on January 9, 2020. Turkey had sent a delegation to Moscow to establish a new ceasefire in the region.[43] Turkey's defence ministry announced that the ceasefire would take effect as of January 12. They said that the attacks by land and air would halt at one minute past midnight.[44] The ceasefire will stem the flow of refugees from Idlib but will also allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region.[45]

Since 15 January[edit]

Late on 15 January, the Syrian Army and its allies resumed offensive actions in southern Idlib in response to the recent series of ceasefire violations by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other militant groups, capturing the villages of Barzsah and Nouhiya.[46]

On 16 January, the Syrian Army captured three more towns in southeast Idlib after troops stormed the towns of Tell Khatrah, Abu Jurayf and Khirbat Dawud in the morning. The three towns were secured following several hours of clashes before a counterattack by Haya’at Tahrir al-Sham and its allies allegedly recaptured Abu Jurayf.[47][48]

On 17 January, the rebels captured Tal Musaytif.[49]

Humanitarian consequences[edit]

According to SOHR, 100,000 people were displaced because of the fighting and Syrian and Russian bombing.[2] On 23 December, the United Nations stated that the renewed fighting that started on 18 December had caused an exodus of 80,000 people across Idlib Governorate.[50]

More than 235,000 civilians were displaced as of 27 December 2019 per the UN.[51]



  •  Italy – Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio, while speaking about his country's desire to establish a ceasefire in Libya's ongoing civil war, said that the situations in Libya and Syria were similar.[52]
  •  United Arab Emirates – On the UAE's 48th National Day (2 December 2019), an Emirati official at the UAE embassy in Damascus praised the Syrian government's actions and claimed that Syria's president Bashar al-Assad was acting wisely.[53]
  •  United States – On 26 December 2019, United States president Donald Trump warned via Twitter that "Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province," and added that "Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage."[54]


  • Hayat Tahrir al-Sham – In response to the 19 December offensive, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani said in a video statement that the offensive would negatively affect regional stability and the lives of people throughout the region, namely the Levant, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq and the Persian Gulf. He also claimed that HTS has achieved many of its goals in Syria, such as weakening the state of the Syrian military and the Syrian economy; he criticized Russia's role in supporting the Syrian government as an attempt to restore the level of influence Russia had during the Soviet-era.[55][56]


  1. ^ Map: Liberation of 350 km2 in south of Idlib province by Syrian Army in seven days!
  2. ^ a b "In a week of flare up in Idlib .. about 3500 air and ground strikes kill 78 persons including 30 children and women .. 41000 people displace .. regime forces advance snatching 44 areas from the factions grip in Maarrat Al-Nu'man and 259 casualties documented in ranks of both sides". SOHR.
  3. ^ /syrian-army-resumed-offensive-actions-in-southern-idlib-making-first-gains/
  5. ^ Syria regime forces surround Turkish army post in Idlib
  6. ^ a b "Syrian Army's death toll after two-days of battle in southeast Idlib rises to 40". Al-Masdar News.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c 110 rebels, 88 soldiers and 40 civilians reported killed between 24 November and 4 December[1][2]
  9. ^ a b c 174 rebels, 152 soldiers and 57 civilians killed between 18 December and 25 December[3][4]
  10. ^ a b c 86 rebels, 76 soldiers and 36 civilians killed between 15 January and 19 January[5][6]
  11. ^ "72 hours of violent escalation: four Russian soldiers and 125 regime soldiers, fighters and jihadies killed in military operations in Idlib and Aleppo, while nearly 1,800 strikes kill and injure over 140 civilians". SOHR.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Russian, Syrian Regime Forces Step Up Attacks on Rebel Stronghold Idlib". Voice of America.
  14. ^ "In conjunction with the absence of Air Force for four consecutive hours, hit-and-run clashes take place in Maarrat al-Nu'man countryside". SOHR.
  15. ^ "Syrian Army Regains Control over More Areas in Idlib's Southeast (+Video) - World news". Tasnim News Agency.
  16. ^ "Teroristi se razbežali, raspao se front, Asadove snage nezaustavljivo jure na Marat al Numan! (MAPA)". alo.
  17. ^ "شبكة بلدي الإعلامية |".
  18. ^ الشامية, محرر الدرر (29 November 2019). ""تحرير الشام" تحبط هجومين لقوات الأسد وميليشيات إيران على محور الكبينة باللاذقية خلال 24 ساعة". الدرر الشامية.
  19. ^ Desk, News (30 November 2019). "Jihadist rebels score big advance in southeast Idlib after launching new offensive".
  20. ^ "Wayback Machine". 1 December 2019.
  21. ^ "Syrian army rejects terrorist offensive southeast of Idleb".
  22. ^ "As clashes continue in Idlib fronts .. 5 members of the regime forces killed including an officer • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights". 4 December 2019.
  23. ^ "SAA control military base east of Umm Al-Tinah Idlib Governorate". Map of Syrian Civil War - Syria news and incidents today -
  24. ^ Desk, News (9 December 2019). "Syrian Army launches heavy attack across southern Idlib".
  25. ^ "Deadly Russian bombardment of Idlib is response to 'opposition rejection of land-grab proposal'". The New Arab. 18 December 2019.
  26. ^ "Jihadist forces launched large attack against Syrian Army troops: Russian military". Al-Masdar News. 18 December 2019.
  27. ^ "Breaking: Syrian Army kicks off 2nd phase of Idlib offensive". Al-Masdar News. 19 December 2019.
  28. ^ "Several Syrian soldiers killed in ambush by Turkish-backed militants in northeast Latakia". Al-Masdar News. December 21, 2019.
  29. ^ "Wayback Machine". 21 December 2019.
  30. ^ Desk, News (21 December 2019). "Syrian Army's death toll after two-days of battle in southeast Idlib rises to 40".
  31. ^ "After besieging the Turkish point in Morek months ago, the regime forces almost besiege the Turkish point in "al-Sarman" and control areas in the Maarrat al-Nu'man countryside". The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. 22 December 2019.
  32. ^ "Syria regime forces surround Turkish army post in Idlib". France 24. December 23, 2019.
  33. ^ "Regime forces go deep in Jarjanaz town's neighborhoods and get closer to Maarrat al-Nu'man city, less than 9 km away of it". The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. 23 December 2019.
  34. ^ "Russian-backed Syrian forces close in on major city in rebel-held Idlib". Reuters. 24 December 2019.
  35. ^ "Opposition factions and jihadis continue counterattack in Maarrat Al-Nu'man countryside recovering more areas hours after regime had advanced into them". SOHR.
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ /russian-warplanes-wiped-out-ahrar-al-sham-convoy-in-southern-idlib/
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ /syrian-army-resumed-offensive-actions-in-southern-idlib-making-first-gains/
  47. ^ /syrian-army-captures-three-towns-in-southeast-idlib-after-killing-dozens-of-militants/
  48. ^ /hts-claims-its-militants-recaptured-town-in-southeast-idlib/
  49. ^
  50. ^ "Russian-backed Syrian forces close in on major city in rebel-held Idlib". Reuters. 23 December 2019. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^ "UAE official praises Assad as his forces kill civilians in Idlib". Middle East Eye.
  54. ^ "Trump warns Syria, Russia and Iran against killing 'innocent civilians' in Idlib province". Politico. 26 December 2019. Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  55. ^
  56. ^

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