"World" editorial. Humanitarian tragedies were not lacking during the nine years of the Syrian civil war, but that which is going on around the city of Idlib, last bastion of the anti-Bashar Al-Assad rebellion, in the northwest of country, is of a scale never seen.
Three million civilians are caught between 20,000 rebel fighters, mainly jihadists, supported by Turkey, and government forces helped by Russian bombings that spare hospitals, schools, and markets, according to a method already tested by Vladimir Putin in Chechnya.
Since the offensive launched in December 2019, 700,000 people have had to leave the shelled areas, causing "The biggest displacement of the worst war of our generation", according to the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland.
The time for mourning has passed: Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is completing the bloody task of reclaiming its territory. The September 2018 ceasefire between Turkey and Russia was supposed to ease the pressure on Idlib. In return for Russian restraint and a suspension of the Damascus offensive, Ankara made a point of forcing jihadists of the Hayat Tahrir Al-Cham movement, an offshoot of Al-Qaida, to leave the front line. What the Turkish army could not or did not want to do.
The reconquest by the Syrian army, Tuesday, February 11, of the positions held by the rebels on the strategic M5 highway allows the regime to reopen the strategic North-South Damascus-Aleppo axis. But the slow progress suggests a terrible carnage if a final military escalation intended to crush the insurgency takes place.
There is no good solution
Between Damascus and Moscow on the one hand, who have little regard for the lives of the civilians whom they claim to release "terrorists" – the name that the regime reserves for all its adversaries -, on the other hand, sponsor Turkey ambiguous of the insurgents, the worst is possible. Originally partners, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan now appear as formidable competitors to exert their influence in a region where Americans and Europeans have lost their credibility.
As tension mounts between Ankara and Moscow, there is a real risk of a direct Turkish-Syrian, even Turkish-Russian confrontation. Turkey, which already hosts 3.7 million refugees, fears that the assault on Idlib will further inflate their flow. Civilians are indeed trying to reach the nearby border area, which the Russians are reluctant to bomb, and which is already saturated with displaced people.
There is no good solution for Idlib. But the continuation of the allegedly "final" military offensive is certainly the worst for all the protagonists. Not only would it precipitate the forced displacement of populations towards Turkey, at the risk of destabilizing regions already under tension, and encourage Ankara to resume its blackmail of migrants vis-à-vis the European Union, but it would cause a dissemination of jihadists and their weapons in Syria but also in Turkey.
The tragedy of the Syrian civil war, which European countries and the United States have failed to stop for lack of a coherent and consistent strategy towards the anti-Assad rebellion, has already caused the death of nearly 500,000 people and forced to flee millions of others. Only a real ceasefire including all the rebel groups, of which all the parties involved would be the guarantors, can prevent a final bloodbath with incalculable consequences.