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Escalation in de-escalation zones: Aerial bombardment and ground clashes continued this week in the northwestern province of Idlib and the Eastern Ghouta region of the Damascus suburbs – two areas designated de-escalation zones.
Pro-government forces advanced toward the strategic Abu Zuhour military airport in southern Idlib over the weekend. On Monday the Syrian pro-government al-Watan newspaper said the Syrian army and its allies were “encircling” the airbase.
Fighting and increased Syrian and Russian airstrikes in Idlib in recent weeks have already forced at least 100,000 civilians to flee, according to the United Nations.
Airstrikes, missiles and shelling targeted the Eastern Ghouta at least 250 times on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The monitoring group said that at least 195 civilians have been killed in aerial bombardments in the area since December 29. Last week, the U.N. put the death toll in Eastern Ghouta at 85 civilians since the start of the year, and on Sunday UNICEF said at least 30 children have died in that time.
Tensions rise on Turkey-Syria border: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Monday that an operation against the Kurdish-controlled northwestern Syrian cities of Afrin and Manbij might start at any moment, according to Turkish state-run news outlet Anadolu Agency (AA).
“Our preparations are finalized, an operation may start at any moment,” Erdogan said, adding that “then, the turn will come for other regions.”
AA also reported that Turkey has recently deployed reinforcements to support Turkish forces already stationed along Syria’s border.
Erdogan has threatened a military operation in Afrin before, but this latest announcement comes amid reports that the United States-led coalition plans to train Kurdish and Arab fighters in the area to become a Border Security Force (BSF). The force will operate under the leadership of the Kurdish-dominant Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000,” CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale told the Defense Post.
Turkey, Russia and Syria denounced Washington’s plan, and the latter called it “a blatant encroachment upon the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.”