Opposition fighters prepare ammunition in the al-Mushrifa area, near the town of Khan Sheikun in Syria's northwestern rebel-held province of Idlib, during ongoing clashes with government forces on January 2, 2018. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
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Having recaptured most of Syria, the government has vowed a "mother of all battles" to retake Idlib, but analysts warn it will be Turkey's presence, not the rebels, that may prove the greatest challenge for Damascus. The tide of the war is now firmly in President Bashar Assad's favor, after a fierce military campaign overwhelmed rebel fighters and saw troops sweep across the country, most recently in Deraa, the birthplace of the revolution. Idlib's population is thought to be around 3 million, a third of which are internally displaced people from other parts of the country who struggle to live among the warring militant factions and fear an imminent regime offensive may uproot them once more.Turkey intervened in Syria as part of Operation Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield, establishing de facto Turkish control in a pocket of northern Syria adjacent to Idlib province.Instead, he argued, Ankara wants to maintain a longer-term presence in Syria in order to prevent any Kurdish stronghold taking hold.Kurdish leaders recently said that they would be willing to assist a regime campaign in Idlib.
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