Assad regime's attack on Idlib could have a massive humanitarian fallout
30 Aug 2019
Syria

In the last four months, the regime’s offensive has already killed at least 700 people and many more lives are at risk, according to experts.

The Assad regime is relentlessly pounding Idlib province with air strikes, causing large-scale destruction that is likely to morph into yet another humanitarian crisis.

At least a half million people have already been displaced from Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian opposition, and a large number of children are among the casualties.

"Between May 1st and August 18 of this year, 576,000 movements by displaced people have been recorded in the north?west of the country," said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a press conference on Wednesday.

The UN says Assad's offensive could impact the lives of more than three million civilians living in the opposition-held province and trigger “a new wave of human suffering”.

Experts have urged similar caution.

“There has already been a huge humanitarian crisis there. Much of the region, which has been affected by the Assad’s current offensive, has been emptied before. But there are a lot of civilian settlements in the direction of the fighting [Assad’s offensive]. As a result, more people will be affected by fighting, which will lead them to move to other areas in Idlib,” said Serhat Erkmen, a Turkish security expert on Syria.

The Assad forces have recently taken over Khan Shaykhun, a key city which straddles Syria's two most populous cities Damascus and Aleppo.

The map shows Khan Shaykhun, which is located on the Damascus-Aleppo Highway in northwestern Syria.
The map shows Khan Shaykhun, which is located on the Damascus-Aleppo Highway in northwestern Syria. (Samet Catak / TRTWorld)

“With the fighting moving into civilian areas, the magnitude of humanitarian crisis will just get worse and worse,” Erkmen told TRT World.

Turkey, Syria’s neighbour, is likely to be affected by the impending humanitarian disaster. The country is the top host of refugees in the world and has already welcomed 3.5 million Syrian refugees. Another refugee influx will put an immense strain on the country's resources.

But Erkmen argues that it's not just Turkey but also European countries that will have to share the burden of another refugee crisis since Ankara has gone out of the way to absorb a large portion of displaced Syrians.

“Turkey’s priority is to prevent a new wave of refugees to enter its borders. Turkey will increase its efforts [to prevent a humanitarian crisis] and do more humanitarian aid [in areas close to the border in Syria]. It will do its best to make life standards liveable in those areas,” Erkmen said.

After the Assad's offensive in the Idlib province, the last opposition stronghold, civilians move into safe areas in northwestern Syria on August 21, 2019.
After the Assad's offensive in the Idlib province, the last opposition stronghold, civilians move into safe areas in northwestern Syria on August 21, 2019. (AFP)

But it should be understood that meeting a future humanitarian crisis is not only Turkey’s task, according to Erkmen, who stressed that European nations need to step up to avert the looming humanitarian crisis.

“Therefore, this issue is not only Turkey’s problem but also the problem of the whole world and humanity. Everybody knows very well that another refugee wave could reach Europe. It happened before,” he said.

“When there was an enormous wave of refugees, it has also affected Europe.”

Russian role in Assad’s slaughtering in Idlib

In September 2018, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brokered an agreement with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to prevent the regime’s brutal attack, establishing demilitarised zones in Idlib.

But the Assad regime has often violated the agreement, attacking civilian areas including hospitals. 

''The Secretary-General reiterates his urgent call for the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib to be upheld," Dujarric, the UN spokesman, said, referring to the Turkish-Russian agreement.

The divided territories show different forces in northern Syria.
The divided territories show different forces in northern Syria. (Samet Catak / TRTWorld)

Moscow, the main backer of the regime alongside Tehran, appears to allow the Assad regime’s attacks in the province on the pretext that Damascus is going after terrorist groups in Idlib. That pretext has been a common excuse for the regime to attack civilian areas, killing innocent people during the eight-year civil war.

Erkmen thinks Russians need to fulfill their side of the agreement to prevent the regime attacks. But they are also doing brutal air strikes into civilian areas, he said.

Recently, the regime became even more impudent, attacking a Turkish convoy heading to Ankara’s number nine observatory post, which is located close to Khan Shaykhun, killing several civilians in the area and wounding others.

The regime has also previously attacked Turkish observatory posts, seeing them as the only force in its way, preventing turning Idlib into a killing field.

But Turkey sternly warned the regime saying that “not to play with fire”.

“We will do whatever it takes to secure our troops,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asserted during a press conference on Tuesday in Ankara.

During a recent phone call, Erdogan also told Putin that the Assad’s offensive could prevent a lasting solution to the Syrian crisis, threatening the country’s national security prospects. The Turkish president will also conduct a one-day trip to Moscow on Tuesday to discuss recent Assad attacks with Putin.  

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