18 February 2020   Leave a comment

The is a desperate humanitarian crisis in the Idlib Province of Syria. It is one of the few areas in Syria still held by opposition forces to the Assad regime in Syria. Since the withdrawal of US forces from Syria, the Syrian government, backed by Russian airpower, has pummeled the province with little attention to civilians and other protected agents such as hospitalsand schools. About 900,000 people, 500,000 of them children, have been displaced by the violence and the numbers of people living in tents with no heat in the bitter cold have overwhelmed the humanitarian relief organizations. From a strategic point of view, the opposition forces have little hope of resisting the Syrian attacks, but there is no place for the people to go. Turkey closed its border to refugees in 2015 and the Syrian/Russian attacks seemed designed to cut off any supplies to the civilian population from Turkey. The New York Times reports:

“Russian and Syrian forces, advancing rapidly from the south and east of Idlib, have reached the town of Al Atarib, barely 15 miles from the Turkish border.

“The attack seems to be a bid to cut supply lines from Turkey to areas held by the opposition forces or even an effort to encircle and besiege the city of Idlib itself, where some 700,000 people live, aid organizations said.

“The Turkish army has deployed hundreds of troops and armor in the north of the province to protect the approaches to the Turkish border. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that Syrian government troops withdraw to previously agreed positions by the end of February or be forced to do so by Turkish forces.”

Turkey and Russia have been conducting talks to resolve some of these issues, but their efforts have failed. There was an attempt to create a “de-escalation” area in Idlib which was signed by Russia and Turkey in Sochi, Russia in 2018. But both sides support factions in the Syrian civil war which have no interest in reconciliation or in easing the violence against civilians. Over the last few weeks, the rhetoric coming out of Turkey has become increasingly strident, raising fears that Turkey may decide that its only choice would be to confront the Syrian forces. Those forces are backed by significant Russian air power which might lead to rapid escalation if the Turks choose to intervene militarily.

NATO has made it clear that it does not wish to become involved and President Trump lacks any clear policy in Syria other than the ad hoc defense of Syrian oil fields. The United Nations has tried to keep the catastrophe visible, perhaps hoping that other states would take action rather than be accused of doing nothing in the face of such a large humanitarian crisis.

Posted February 18, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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