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Three scenarios for the battle for Idlib

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In recent weeks, the battle for Idlib in northwest Syria has entered a new phase. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have pushed to capture the strategic M4 and M5 highways, which link respectively the city of Latakia and the capital, Damascus, to Aleppo.

The advance of the Syrian forces accompanied by an intensive aerial bombardment campaign over the last remaining stronghold of the Syrian opposition has killed dozens of civilians and opposition fighters, as well as 13 Turkish soldiers, and sent hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing towards the Turkish border. This has pushed Ankara to take action.

The Turkish military has sent several convoys into Syrian territory, reinforcing its observation posts in the northwest, which have been overrun by Syrian regime forces, and setting up new ones in opposition-controlled areas.

Turkey fears that Russia's ultimate objective is to besiege the armed opposition and cut its main supply routes from Turkish territory - a development which it desperately wants to avoid.

With its back to the wall, Ankara is now weighing its options to prevent a complete defeat of its Syrian allies and with them its Syria venture.

Idlib is the last of the four so-called de-escalation zones agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in 2017 which has still not been taken over by the regime. The other three - Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Deraa and Quneitra provinces in the south, and the Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in Homs province - were attacked and captured by regime forces one after the other in the span of a year.

After every takeover, tens of thousands of civilians and fighters who did not want to stay under regime rule were allowed to leave for Idlib, adding to the growing population of IDPs.

In 2018, Turkey managed to save Idlib from the fate of the other three by concluding an agreement with Russia in Sochi to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib. In return, Turkey pledged to disarm and remove Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) - an armed group previously linked to al-Qaeda - from the de-militarised area. The two sides also agreed to reopen the M4 and M5 for trade and........

© Al Jazeera