The fall of Daraa governorate, including the Golan Heights border region, to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on July 31 paves the way for the next battle, in Idlib. Syrian troops are already amassing around the northern governorate. Experts believe that unlike the fighting in the south, the battle for Idlib will be longer and bloodier, as the province is the last insurgency holdout and home to several jihadist organizations.
Russian officials had warned Free Syrian Army (FSA) negotiators July 10 in Daraa that the northwestern province of Idlib would be next, after the fall of much of southern Syria. Despite being included in the 2017 de-escalation plan signed by Turkey, Iran and Russia in Astana, Idlib has regularly been pummeled by Russian and Syria air force strikes, which have destroyed clinics and hospitals across the province. In May, the Financial Times estimated that the population of Idlib exceeded 2.6 million, having swelled from 1.5 million during the civil war.