Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Syria’s Looming Idlib Offensive Is Stalled by Turkey

UN chief pushes for protection of civilians in Syria's Idlib Turkey arms rebels as Idlib prepares for Syrian onslaught
Deanna Wagner | 15 September, 2018, 18:40

A top U.N. humanitarian aid official for Syria says the United States, Russia and other powers have expressed a "common agreement" on the need for a peaceful way forward for the rebel-held province of Idlib.

Already hosting 3.5 million Syrians - the world's biggest refugee population - Turkey says it can not absorb more victims of the war and has accused the West of abandoning it to face the consequences of President Bashar al-Assad's reconquest of Syria. President Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a humanitarian disaster and security risks for Turkey.

Assad's government and its backers, Russian Federation and Iran, say Idlib is ruled by terrorists, and have threatened to seize it by force.

A second source, an official in the regional alliance that supports Assad, said there was a "political tug of war" over Idlib, accompanied by air strikes on militants from Tahrir al-Sham.

It says it can not take more refugees, and Turkish aid and security officials say that in the event of conflict in Idlib they would seek to shelter displaced people inside Syria rather than hosting them on Turkish soil.

Thousands of protesters attend a demonstration against the Syrian government offensive to Idlib, in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan, also known as al-Maarra, south of Idlib, Syria, Friday, Sept 14, 2018. The Turkish army controls the areas next to its border and has set up 12 military observation posts in the rest of the region.

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Located near the Turkish border, Idlib is home to almost two million internally displaced people, who fled from other cities following attacks by the regime forces.

Over the past couple of months, the Syrian government forces have urged the rebels in Idlib province to lay down their weapons and agree to a reconciliation deal with the government.

The UN has warned that such an offensive would lead to the "worst humanitarian catastrophe in the 21st century".

This is contrary to worldwide humanitarian law, the OCHA spokesperson said, adding that one of the hospitals was also in a protected "deconfliction zone", whose coordinates had been given to the warring parties to spare it from attack.

In the run-up to a possible Idlib offensive, the Syrian government and Russian Federation have alleged that rebels in Idlib are planning to use chemical weapons to frame the government and induce Western punitive airstrikes.

About half of those displaced so far have moved to camps, while others went to informal settlements, stayed with families or rented housing, OCHA spokesman David Swanson said on Monday. "The operation is not canceled, but we have time".