Opposition groups in northern Syria are in the process of establishing a “national army”, a step that could prevent President Bashar Assad from controlling the country’s northwest.
As the countdown for the Idlib battle began, Syria’s opposition is expected to face a main challenge - uniting its forces to create a joint front with Turkey’s help.
Currently, there are two main opposition groups in the north of Syria: the National Army and Al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir (National Liberation Front), in addition to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
“Merging the two opposition groups is not far-off,” a military source in Idlib told Asharq Al-Awsat, predicting that the group would operate under the name of the “National Army.”
He also said that the joint front would not involve Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
Colonel Haitham Afisi, head of the National Army, says setting up the force has been no easy task over the last year.
“We are at the beginning. We face many difficulties but we are working to overcome them,” Afisi told Reuters in an interview in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border.
Regime forces have since last week ramped up their deadly bombardment of southern Idlib and sent reinforcements to nearby areas they control.
Separately, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted Sunday about the possibility of executing more military operations in the north of Syria to establish a safe zone capable of receiving more refugees and preventing the displacement of additional Syrian nationals to his country.
“We are at the last stage of preparations for increasing the number of regions in Syria, where we have provided stability through ‘the Euphrates Shield’ and ‘the Olive Branch’ operations. With God's help, we will liberate new territories in the near future and bring security there,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by the Anadolu news agency.