Why did the Syrian regime attack Idlib’s Jarjanaz on 24 November?

Over recent weeks, regime forces launched multiple attacks on the town of Jarjanaz, in southern Idlib province, claiming the lives of more than 20 civilians and displacing hundreds. Shelling on 24 November struck a school with hundreds of students inside, and left three schoolchildren and two teachers dead. One Civil Defence (White Helmets) worker was injured while tending to victims. In the wake of these attacks, many have been left wondering why Jarjanaz has felt the brunt of the regime’s recent military escalations in the north.

Jarjanaz is a small, densely populated town of around 23,000 residents and 7,500 internally displaced Syrians from around the country. A ceasefire was established in the town and surrounding areas in the Syrian northwest through an agreement reached in September between Russia and Turkey in Sochi. Jarjanaz is located close to the frontline between opposition and regime forces.

Many in the opposition are claiming that the regime’s escalation in Jarjanaz is not only the result of the town’s strong history of dissent and its location close to regime areas, but that Damascus aims to torpedo the Sochi agreement through repeated violations. Escalation in Idlib province puts pressure on opposition forces to retaliate or face public discontent caused by poor security conditions. Retaliation by the opposition would inevitably drag the region into a devastating armed conflict, a scenario that was narrowly avoided a few months ago through Sochi.

Idlib-based Free Syrian Army commander, Husam Salamah, told SY24 that Jarjanaz witnessed opposition protests and armed insurrection against the Syrian government early in the Syrian conflict, which in his view explains the regime’s constant targeting of the town. “The regime and Russia want to exert pressure on liberated areas”, he explained, “which is why they are targeting one of the most prominent revolutionary towns.” Salamah maintains that the regime and its allies are exacting revenge on Jarjanaz and opposition-held areas in Idlib.

The head of the Jarjanaz Local Council thought that the regime aims to put pressure on the local population and armed opposition through frequent bombardment. He told SY24 that opposition authorities in the town have made appeals for intervention to Turkish forces stationed at a nearby observation point, which have been ignored, despite Turkey being a guarantor of the Sochi agreement. “We have not received convincing or comforting answers to what is going on in the town,” the Local Council head said, adding “[the town] is witnessing terrible humanitarian conditions.”

Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, warned against violating the Sochi agreement in statements made to the press last week. Dujarric said three million people living in Idlib and surrounding areas would face danger, if escalation of armed violence in the area were not avoided “at any cost”. However, opposition activists say the regime is attempting to drag Jarjanaz and surrounding areas into an armed conflict, in a bid to regain control of the entirety of the Idlib province.

The opposition’s largest political body, the Syrian National Coalition, slammed the regime’s attacks on Jarjanaz in a statement on Saturday, describing them as crimes, and urging the international community not to ignore violations of the ceasefire. The Coalition accused the regime and Iranian-backed militias of attempting to stifle the political peace process in Syria by “committing massacres”.