How Does Syria Opposition View Reopening of Int’l Highways?
The M4 and M5 international highways connecting northern Syria to its south and west are vital for the warring parties, whether Syrian, regional or international. The Syrian regime announced last week its capture of the Aleppo-Damascus highway, while the Aleppo-Latakia highway remains blocked.
How do the opposition factions view this development?
Prominent officer in the Free Syrian Army, Mustafa Bakour, said Russia was seeking through all possible means and military operations to keep the opposition factions away from the M4 and M5 highways. It has captured a 20-kilometer deep area east of the M5 and seized three main cities in the Idlib countryside: Khan Sheikhoun, Maaret al-Numan and Saraqeb.
Moscow has long been interested in the international highways, ever since it intervened military to support the Damascus regime, Bakour told Asharq Al-Awsat. It has always sought to bring up the issue at any talks and agreements with the opposition or guarantor states.
It wants to control those highways and started this effort some two years ago through various settlements between the regime and opposition factions in the Homs and Damascus countrysides, he continued. It has forced the displacement of people who refused to reconcile with the regime and waged battles to capture the highways.
It managed to secure the Damascus-Homs and Homs-Hama international highways, he added.
The regime, with direct Russian support, is fighting the opposition factions for the last remaining section of the M5 highway in the Idlib region.
The capture of the highway is significant because it will “force the international community to normalize relations with the regime,” Bakour remarked.
On the economic level, it boosts Damascus’ international trade and import and export operations, he explained. The regime will be able to impose fees and control international transit routes passing through Syria that generate more than $5 billion per year.
Rights activist Adham Qassoum said the regime and Russia have the same goals in controlling the international highways. The regime believes that capturing the routes will revive the economy and lower costs throughout areas under its control. This will directly lead to a drop in prices of goods because they can now be transported easily between Syria’s major cities, especially Damascus and Aleppo.
Moreover, securing the highways also eases travel for the people, who would no longer be forced to take unsecured side roads, he told Asharq Al-Awsat. Such routes pass through the desert and are also controlled by pro-Iran groups that have set up checkpoints and imposed fees on the people to extort them, he stated.