UPDATE 0915 GMT: Turkey has bolstered its line against any Russian-Assad offensive, bringing a total of about 50 vehicles, including tanks and other armor, to two of its 12 observation posts around Idlib, northern Hama, and western Aleppo Province.

The reinforcements were deployed south of Jisr al-Shughour in northwest Idlib and in northern Hama — both areas expected to be among the first attacked by any Russian-regime assault.


ORIGINAL ENTRY: For the third Friday in a row, tens of thousands of Syrians have rallied across Idlib Province, in the northwest of the country, against a Russian-Assad regime offensive to overrun the area.

The demonstrations, said to be the largest since almost of Idlib was taken by the opposition in 2015, were held in more than two dozen towns and villages. They promoted the Syrian Revolution and welcomed the Turkish political and military line that has staved off Moscow and Damascus.

In Ma’arat al-Num’an alone, 25,000 people gathered after Friday prayers, according to local sources.

“We want to send a message to the rest of the world that we are just an oppressed people who want freedom,” said Mahmoud Harkawi, who works in a printing house. “Our goal is the to.ling of the Assad regime and stopping Russian aggression on our city.”

Ahmad al-Youssef, a carer providing psychological support to children, explained, “The demonstration aimed to prove to the international community, Russia and the regime that this is a popular revolution and not terrorism, as they claim.”

In Idlib city, there were rival demonstrations. The larger, with more than 5,000 people, at the Martyrs’ Square featured the Syrian Revolution flag and slogans against the Assad regime. The smaller at the Clock Square was marked by flags for the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

Rebel factions and local councils have been in conflict with HTS, which controls part of Idlib Province after pushing out rebels in 2017. Russia has used HTS as the “terrorist” pretext to attack Idlib, while Turkey is proposing a resolution in which other groups are supported to take control away from the jihadists.

During last Friday’s protests in Idlib city, HTS members opened fire on protesters after they shouted slogans against group. No incidents were reported yesterday.

Photos: Mohammed al-Daher/Al Jazeera

Holding Off the Offensive

Russia and the Assad regime had built up their forces for the assault on Idlib, which has an estimated 3 million people, and northern Hama Provinces. But Ankara has had military forces alongside rebels in the northwest since August 2016, and it fears an attack which — according to the UN — would be a “humanitarian catastrophe” and displace up to 800,000 residents. Last weekend Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, having failed to reach agreement at a summit with Russian and Iranian counterparts days earlier, wrote, “A regime assault would…create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond.”

Syria Daily, Sept 13: Turkey Takes Stand in Northwest Against Russia-Regime Offensive

There has been Russian or Assad regime bombing and shelling since Monday.

On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Erdoğan will meet President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“We are ready to cooperate with everyone in the fight against terror groups but the killing of civilians, women and children under the guise of fighting against terror is not correct,” Çavuşoğlu said during a press conference in Pakistan.

And after a meeting between representatives of Turkey, France, Germany, and Russia, President Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın said, “Everyone’s common point is that the solution must be political rather than military. Turkey expects more open and direct support from international community and leaders.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tried to maintain a pretext for bombing, saying that Moscow will attack “terrorist” drone workshops: “We have intelligence information where drones are assembled in Idlib from components smuggled there. As soon as we get such information, we will be eliminating such underground workshops that make lethal weapons.”

Hoping to disrupt Russian aerial operations, rebels have flown drones over Moscow’s main airbase, Hmeimim, in western Syria.

A message from a female protester:

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