Monday,25 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Monday,25 March, 2019
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Avoiding a human disaster in Idlib

War-torn Syria is clearly on the verge of another major humanitarian disaster as Syrian army forces, backed by Russia and Iran, prepare to take over Idlib province, the last enclave in which anti-government forces maintain a heavy presence.

According to local and international reports, the lives of nearly three million civilians are at risk, mainly because they are being held hostage by 10,000 to 15,000 fighters who belong to various extremist factions that have enjoyed Turkish, Qatari and Israeli support over the past seven years.

While it is easy for international mediators to repeat hollow words such as “there can be no military solution” for the war in Syria, the reality on the ground is far more complicated, especially as so many international parties became involved in the Syrian conflict over recent years.

One of the largest factions that maintains a presence in Idlib is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, which previously prided itself as being a branch for Al-Qaeda terrorist group in Syria. When a couple of Turkish journalists wrote a report backed by evidence on how Turkish intelligence agencies provided military support for this faction, as well as the Islamic State group, the result was not just putting an end to this shameful collusion with a terrorist organisation. The Turkish journalists also ended up in prison facing long jail sentences.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, Israel, aiming to prevent Iran from mobilising troops along its border with Syria, provided financial support to at least a dozen militant factions, and even paid its fighters a monthly salary, plus other payments to purchase weapons from the black market. When those militants were betrayed by their sponsor, and left alone to be defeated by the Syrian army, they were bussed to Idlib.

Many other factions, that were financed and provided with weapons through Turkey and Qatar, were also transferred to Idlib following their defeat in recent offenses by the Syrian army, Russia and Iran.

In all these international interventions in Syria, civilians were definitely the last matter of concern, other than as lip service. Now, the same bloody violent scenario that was seen in several other parts of Syria seems to be imminent in Idlib.

A summit meeting that was held in Tehran Friday, attended by leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey, has obviously failed to reach understandings on avoiding yet another blood bath in Syria. On the same day the three leaders were meeting in Tehran, Russian and Syrian fighter jets were bombing militant targets in Syria. While Russian and Iranian leaders insisted that the Syrian government was entitled to control all its territory, and defeat terrorist groups, the Turkish president manoeuvred to ask for a ceasefire, basically continuing to provide a safe haven for groups dubbed by the international community as terrorist organisations.

Meanwhile, in New York, also on Friday, UN Security Council members held yet another open meeting in which warnings were repeated of a “ticking bomb” in Idlib, and the need to avoid a “blood bath”. The British ambassador to the UN correctly stated that while there were reportedly 15,000 terrorists in Idlib, there were far more children and millions of civilians who lived there. However, no tangible agreements or understandings were reached to avoid a horrible scenario.

It makes no sense that the world will stand by watching as this disaster unfolds, and there has to be a solution. This solution needs to be agreed on by Turkey and all other key parties involved in the Syrian war, including the Syrian regime, the United States, Europe, Russia, Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, Syria’s fate, like several other Arab countries, now lies in the hands of foreign powers, and not the people and government.

If the aim is truly to save civilian lives, including children, all the parties need to agree on steps that would achieve the goal of ending the presence of terrorist groups in Idlib. In similar previous incidents, the Syrian regime agreed to make peace with rebel groups if they agreed to give up their weapons and live under its control. The difference this time is that if there were a new offensive or deal, it is unclear where those militants could go. Probably, the countries that provided with money and weapons, and treated them as freedom fighters, should be their next stop.

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime should respond positively to ongoing UN efforts to draft a new constitution, opening the door for fair and free elections in which the Syrian people would decide their future, away from foreign intervention and without turning their country into a safe haven for terrorist organisations from all over the globe.

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