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Full-fledged military escalation looms large in Idlib

Developments in southern Idlib suggest that a five-month truce could soon come to an end with a fresh regime offensive to capture Syria’s last rebel stronghold.

The fragile cease-fire in Idlib —- in place since early March when a Turkish-Russian deal ended a violent escalation — seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse amid growing signs that the Syrian regime is gearing up for a fresh thrust to capture the rebel stronghold.

The truce has largely held despite sporadic violations, but appears doomed mainly because southern Idlib remains far from being stabilized. In their meeting in Moscow on March 5, the presidents of Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a security corridor 6 kilometers (nearly 4 miles) deep on either side of the M4 highway to reopen the key road to traffic. Turkish and Russian forces have conducted more than 25 joint patrols along the route since then, but failed to fully take it under control. The road has yet to reopen to transport and trade. The failure of the plan owes to radical elements who skillfully disguise themselves among the region’s people and enjoy the support of some locals. 

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