Aug 09 2018

Turkey on alert as threat of Idlib "bloodbath" rises

Russia, Turkey and Iran have promised to do their “utmost” to prevent a potentially devastating battle between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels in Idlib, the last major opposition-controlled region in the country, United Nations humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland has said.

According to Egeland, over four million people are in the area, which has been the last destination for Syrian opposition supporters forcibly displaced from other parts of the country overtaken by Assad regime forces.

The UN adviser urged diplomats and military envoys to do their utmost to avoid a “bloodbath” in Idlib, and asked Turkey to keep its borders open for the potentially huge flow of refugees that a battle would create.

“We will push Russia, Turkey, Iran which are the Astana three that have big influence in Idlib, as well as Western, gulf countries … to learn from East Ghouta, learn from Raqqa, this war must end in agreements, not in a bloodbath,” Egeland said.

Turkey, Russia and Iran are three major players in the Astana peace talks, an alternative to the UN’s favoured Geneva talks on Syria.

A sudden large influx of Syrians may hold dangers for Hatay, the Turkish province closest to Idlib, which was described in a 2013 International Crisis Group report as a “microcosm” of Syria, due to the areas complex ethnic and sectarian makeup.

“Dramas can easily jump the border,” the report said, referring to the large proportion of Hatay citizens with family in Syria and the potential for trouble between ethnic or sectarian groups, which include Turkish Arab Alevis who support Assad.

Should Assad regime forces take Idlib, Turkey could also face accommodating up to 100,000 rebel fighters, many of whom have ties to Al-Qaeda, according to Syria scholar Joshua Landis.

“(The) Turkish government doesn’t want them in Turkey, and it wants to see some gains from its Syrian adventure, which so far has brought nothing but pain, expense, and refugees into Turkey,” said Landis.