The town of Saraqeb in Syria has been taken by Government forces and represents a major blow to the revolutionary forces. After Russian airstrikes hit the area, government forces alongside Iran-backed militia took the town. Saraqeb sits on the intersection between the M4 and the M5, a network of roads which connect the government-held Aleppo and Damascus. Saraqeb was one of the first areas to break away from the Syrian Government during the Arab Spring in 2011 with the town also fighting elements of Islamic State during their campaign in the region. One activist who fled the city, Ahmad al-Khaled, told The Guardian “Saraqeb means a lot to us, it represents freedom.”
Saraqeb sits in the last rebel-controlled province, Idlib in the north-west of the country. The Syrian Government has been pushing into the region since December in what might be the beginning of the end for the rebels. Over half a million civilians have fled the region since the beginning of the offensive and the United Nations predicts that around 280,000 more civilians are in imminent danger as the offensive rolls on.
The United Nations Human Rights Office said: “It is shocking that civilians continue to bear the brunt of hostilities. It appears foreign powers are batting for territorial and political gains, while blatantly disregarding their obligation to protect civilians.” Throughout the war those sympathetic to the rebels’ cause have moved to the Idlib region seeing it as the bastion of rebel power and as such the population increased from one million to three million since the beginning of the conflict.
Turkey’s Government is backing the rebel forces and occupies parts of Syria since it advanced into the country late last year. It has demanded that the Syrian Government respect the 2017 de-escalation treaty and have deployed troops to ensure that that border is respected.
The beginning of the Syrian civil war was the product of the Arab Spring, a wave of protests and revolutions across the Arab world which led to the toppling of many dictators by the rebellion of citizens. The first signs of rebellion, in March 2011, where the unprecedented levels of pro-democracy protests throughout the country, these protesters wanted an end to the authoritarian-like rule of Bashar al-Assad. Once the Syrian Government attempted to crack down on these protests using the army, the protestors armed themselves and by 2012 the tension had escalated to civil war.
The conflict is also a representation of religious divides as the Government and armed forces are mainly made up of those following the Shia Alawite sect while the protestors and later the rebels are mainly made up of the country’s Sunni majority.
Since the beginning of the War, many other groups have taken the opportunity to break away from the Syrian state. Some of these organizations include the Northern Kurdish groups, the Islamic State terrorist group and other Jihadist groups attempting to overthrow the Government.