Tribune. Who is still interested in Syria? Some beautiful souls no doubt, or those whose job it is in chancelleries or editorial offices, but more people among the political leaders. The agony of the Idlib province is characteristic in this respect. We know from the newspapers that since mid-December 2019 a combined offensive by the Damascus regime forces and the Russian air force has put more than 600,000 people on the roads, mainly women and children; these people often come from other regions of the country recaptured by the regime under comparable conditions. In this province of Idlib as elsewhere, entire cities are razed. Russian planes are destroying dozens of hospitals or medical facilities, in violation of humanitarian law, but this is now seen as "new normal".
The best informed are aware that Turkey is determined to close its borders hermetically and there is no escape from this ultimate rebel stronghold still resisting the grip of Damascus. The region is held by a range of armed groups likely dominated by some 20,000 to 25,000 jihadists affiliated with the Hayat Tahrir Al-Cham Group (HTS) or other organizations. A precarious ceasefire had put an end to the fighting for months following an agreement between Putin and Erdogan. The Turks installed advanced military posts. The Russians note, however, that Turkey has not fulfilled its part of the contract, which consisted of fighting and then eliminating, with the help of non-jihadist rebels, the extremists of HTS, who include in their ranks a number of Russian speakers.
An escalation between Ankara and Damascus is taking shape
We do not see in these conditions what could prevent Moscow from letting the regime reconquer Idlib, or rather from helping it in this endeavor, whatever the price to be paid for the civilian population. Erdogan – whose soldiers were killed in the adventure – sends reinforcements and threatens the Syrian regime with terrible lightning strikes. An escalation between Ankara and Damascus is taking shape. Many observers, however, believe that at best Turkey will obtain arbitration from Russia, leaving it a buffer zone along its border, to allow it, as elsewhere, to settle the displaced there.
For Europeans, it is late, very late, to take an initiative on Idlib. There are several reasons why they should do so. This distant mountainous province of Syria is actually on our doorstep. It borders Turkey, the EU’s immediate neighbor. The drama that unfolds there is the negation of the values on which Europe was built. Public opinion, although silent, is more sensitive to it than we think. In addition, Idlib harbors the obvious risk of a chain of events leading to new large influxes of refugees on our continent. There is also reason to believe that the outcome of military force alone and coercion, as desired by Damascus, Moscow and Tehran, far from solving the jihadist problem, will create the conditions for the rooting of terrorism. But what to do ?