Syria: Idlib between jihadis and imperial air-raids

Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in ‪‎the Idlib town of Kafranbel‬, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station’s manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they’ve been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). “They tried to force us to stop playing music on air,” said Fares. “So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them.”

And the presence of these jihadis means that Idlib is coming under bombardment by both superpowers. On Feb. 8, the Pentagon announced that 11 “terrorists” supposedly linked to al-Qaeda were killed in US air-strikes in Idlib over the past days. One was named as “legacy al-Qaida terrorist” Abu Hani al-Masri, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Rebel-linked social media reported that he was serving as a commander of jihadist faction Ahrar al-Sham, and that he was killed by a US drone operating out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. (LWJ, Feb. 8; Syrian Rebels Reddit feed, Feb. 4)

Vladimir Putin meanwhile sent condolences after a Russian air-strike on a supposed ISIS target accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers near al-Bab in Aleppo governorate. (BBC News, Feb. 9) We can only imagine the toll in civilian and non-combatant casualties the relentless air-strikes by multiple foreign powers are taking—without anyone feeling obliged to acknowledge them or issue any apologies.