Idlib’s residents protest in rebel stronghold amid airstrike lull


Turkey and Russia’s disagreement over how to tackle Idlib has led to a lull in airstrikes in the Syrian rebel stronghold as protests continue in the region.

The two nations are on opposite sides of the conflict – but are key global allies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Russian and Iranian leaders Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani in Tehran last week to discuss the conflict.

A major assault by Russia-backed regime forces on Idlib looked imminent but discord at the summit between Mr Erdogan and Mr Putin may have prompted Russia to postpone the Idlib strike so as not to provoke Ankara, which is fiercely opposed to a military option.

Intense negotiations have taken place between Turkey and Russia since the talks in Tehran ended without an agreement.

Newly displaced Syrian children arrive to a refugee camp in Atimah village, Idlib province, Syria September 11, 2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkey has warned a full-scale military assault would be catastrophic for civilians

The leaders are aiming for a compromise in a bid to avert an assault which Mr Erdogan says would ignite a “bloodbath”.

After seven long and brutal years of war, Idlib’s residents are still going out in their thousands and protesting.

The conflict has seen many of them displaced and many of their family members killed, but the slogan they chant has not changed.

Huddled together in the centre of Idlib demonstrators made their demands clear – the Syrian regime to fall and President Assad with it.

Idlib is the last major opposition stronghold but Syrian government forces are strengthening along the province’s border.

 Haleem Tamro's two children were killed in airstrikes
Haleem Tamro’s two children were killed in airstrikes

In the past year the Syrian army has successfully recaptured all of the Damascus suburbs and the city of Deraa, now they are preparing for what could be another long and bloody battle in the north of the country.

President Assad claims Idlib is a refuge for “terrorists” but the overwhelming majority of the population are civilians.

In recent days Turkey, which provides support to opposition groups in Idlib, has warned that a full-scale military assault would be catastrophic for civilians and pose a security risk for Europe with thousands of new refugees potentially fleeing across the border.

Russia, providing vital military support to the Syrian Government, says it will continue striking terrorists in Idlib but will also open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee.

Humanitarian organisations are clear – an attack on Idlib could create the worst humanitarian crisis of the century.

At a bread factory run by an aid agency near the Turkey-Syria border they are gearing up to increase production.

Syrians protest in Idlib
Idlib is the last major opposition stronghold

Appeals have gone out for donations of flour – they fear that if there is a massive refugee crisis they will not be able to feed everyone in need.

“If this (offensive) happens there is expected to be a big flow of refugees…between 700,000 and 1,000,000”, according to Yusuf Tunc, a project manager of the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.

“For the last couple of days we can say it’s already started. A number of people – around 10,000 – in a dire situation have started moving to the border”.

The signs that a new phase of conflict may be coming are clear.

For days now Turkish military equipment has been arriving at the border – the long barrier has also been reinforced.

In Idlib, the protests will continue but for now they hope the world will listen and the fighting will not come.


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