Ankara and Moscow are again facing an escalation of violence in Syria’s last rebel-held territory, a development that puts their cooperation to the test even as they support opposing sides in the eight-year war that has devastated Syria. An all-out offensive by Syrian government forces to capture Idlib in northwestern Syria from insurgents could unleash an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, for the area is home to 3 million people. Turkey, which is already hosting more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, is facing strong pressure from Syria, Iran and Russia to deliver on its pledge to control the armed rebel factions in Idlib. But Turkey also needs Russia to rein in Syrian President Bashar Assad to prevent a massive outflow of refugees and to keep Turkish soldiers on the ground safe. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have an incentive to cooperate and ensure that nobody’s interests are totally trampled,” says Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East program in American think-tank Foreign Policy Research Institute. In September, the two leaders brokered a cease-fire for Idlib in the Russian resort of Sochi, preventing a bloody onslaught, despite the fact that Russia has firmly backed Assad and Turkey supports opposition forces. Nine months later, the truce has failed. The agreement called for a 15-to-20 kilometer (9-to-12 mile) demilitarized zone free of insurgents and heavy weaponry and for two key highways crossing through Idlib to be reopened. The demilitarized zone has been breached and the highways are at the
Russian-backed Syrian government forces will be able to advance all the way to the Turkish border if they pierce rebel defences in the northwest, a top opposition official said, urging Turkey to do more to shield the area from a major attack. The month-long onslaught is the most serious escalation of the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer. Syrian government air strikes and barrel bombing backed by Russian air power have uprooted around 250,000 people in the territory, the last significant rebel stronghold. Fawaz Hilal, head of the “Salvation Government” that runs Idlib province, expressed confidence that opposition fighters gathered in the Idlib region from all over Syria would be able resist the onslaught. “This ferocious attack is a bone-breaking battle. If the regime is able to break our defensive lines in northern Hama and southern Idlib it will not stop until it reaches the borders,” Hilal told Reuters in an interview. His government, backed by the powerful Tahrir al-Sham jihadist group, had called on its employees to help shoulder the “military burden” through building sandbag defences, manning front lines, financial support or any other help. “We are all concerned with repelling this attack,” he said. The bombardment has killed 229 civilians and injured 727 since April 28, according to The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), a U.S.-based medical NGO. Hilal spoke at his office in Idlib city, the provincial capital where life has continued as normal as the offensive has mostly
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart discussed ways to reduce tension in Syria’s Idlib province, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, after the biggest military escalation in northwest Syria in nearly a year. Russia has backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has backed some rebels in Syria’s eight-year civil war, but they have recently worked together to try to contain fighting in the country’s northwest. That effort has been strained by the surge in violence in Syria’s last major insurgent stronghold in recent weeks. The offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russia, has uprooted more than 150,000 people, the United Nations says, while rescue workers and civil defence officials say more than 120 civilians have been killed. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the attacks by Syrian forces a flagrant violation of a September ceasefire that had averted a government offensive. He said in a tweet on Tuesday it went counter to the spirit of Turkey’s efforts to work with Russia and Iran to reduce hostilities and casualties in Idlib and neighbouring areas. On Monday, rebels said they mounted a counterattack against government forces. A senior rebel commander said on Tuesday the offensive showed an array of rebel forces – from Turkey-backed rebels to jihadists – were still able to prevent the army from making major advances despite heavy air strikes. “We conducted this lighting offensive to show the Russians we are not easy prey and throw the
“There are ongoing attempts to attack the Hmeimim airbase and positions of the Syrian army in the Latakia province by the terrorist groups staying in the Idlib de-escalation zone with multiple-launch rocket systems and unmanned aerial vehicles,” Major General Viktor Kupchishin, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation said.
Born in the village of Qardaha in Syria on October 6, 1930, Hafez al-Assad became Syrian president of the country in 1971, after taking part in multiple coups. Though widely criticized for brutal tactics (most notably the 1982 Hama massacre), he is also praised for bringing stability to Syria, and for improving relations between Syria and Western powers by supporting America in the Persian Gulf War. He served as president of Syria until his death on June 10, 2000.
Of the five members of the Ba’ath Party’s Military Committee who seized power in Syria in 1963, Hafez Al-Assad went the furthest. Of the other four, one took the blame for Syria’s loss of the Golan Heights during the Six Day War and was pushed out of politics; one committed suicide; a third was assassinated; the other died in prison after 25 years.
Bashar al-Assad inherited power in July 2000, a month after his father, military strongman Hafez al-Assad died. But since March 2011, his rule over Syria has been under threat, with the country beset by violence that has killed an estimated 465,000 people and embroiled regional and world powers in the never-ending horror.
Despite Western and Arab countries backing the opposition, Assad has survived seven years of war and refuses to step aside.