Syria's al-Qaeda to launch 'major offensive' as Russia withdraws

Syria's al-Qaeda to launch 'major offensive' as Russia withdraws
Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate,al-Nusra Front, have announced plans to launch a major assault against regime forces taking advantage of a Russian military pull-out of the country.
3 min read
15 March, 2016
The militants are expected to take advantage of Russia's withdrawal from Syria [Getty]
Syria's al-Qaeda has vowed to launch a new offensive in the country after Russia announced the withdrawal of the majority of its forces from the war-torn state.

An unnamed commander described Russia's withdrawal as a "defeat" for the Moscow, and said Nusra will take advantage of the military vacuum to take new territories from the regime.

"It is clear that Russia has suffered defeat, and within the next 48 hours al-Nusra will launch an offensive in Syria," the militant told AFP.

"The Russians withdrew for one reason, and it is because while they were backing the regime, the regime was unable to hold onto the territories that it took over. Had it not been for the Russian warplanes, we would have been in Latakia."

He described the Syrian army as "cowardly" and said that Russia was unwilling to makes any more sacrifices for  a regime that was on the verge of "collapse".

New offensive

Nusra has already shown signs of a more aggressive stance against the regime and moderate rebel groups.

On Monday, Syrian protesters stormed a makeshift prison in Idlib run by Nusra.

Local activist Ibrahim al-Idlibi told The New Arab that residents stormed a building used by the group, and set fire to the facility after freeing a number of Division 13 fighters who had been detained there after taking part in fighting against the jihadi group.

Tensions between Nusra and Idlib locals have escalated in recent weeks with militants threatening to shoot protesters taking part in a wave secular demonstrations surging through rebel territories.

Hundreds of spontaneous anti-regime protests spread across the Syrian rebel territories - from Aleppo to Daraa - since a ceasefire came into force.

Nusra militants could still be a target of the Russian war planes that will stay behind in Latakia province.

Bombings continue

On Monday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his troops would withdraw from Syria but the following day Moscow said it would continue striking "terrorist targets" in the country.

On Tuesday, Russian war planes launched air raids on areas outside the ceasefire zone.

This includes territories where al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group both operate. In the case of the former, these areas often overlap with moderate opposition-held towns and cities.

"It is still too early to speak of victory over terrorism. The Russian air group has a task of continuing to strike terrorist targets," said Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov said.

The suggested reports appeared to be confirmed by a pro-regime news website, al-Masdar News, who said Russian war planes struck a number of IS sites in the country's Homs region.

A Syrian military source confirmed the news saying more than ten Russian strikes hit IS-held Palmyra on Tuesday.

The Russian withdrawal coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Syrian revolution which has seen as many as 470,000 killed and half the population made homeless.

Much of the carnage has been the result of Russian and regime bombing.