As Bashar al-Assad and Russia prepare to attack the Syrian town of Idlib, with 3 million people having nowhere to go, the operation could turn into a humanitarian catastrophe. Russian and Syrian airplanes hammered the rebel stronghold on Tuesday (4 September) before Russia, Iran and Turkey leaders meet to talk through the expected Syrian government offensive.
The International Crisis Group, a conflict-monitoring organization, estimates that about one-third of the civilians in Idlib have survived intense bombardment or fighting elsewhere in Syria. This may be the last major battle of the civil war that is now in its eighth year. The defeat of rebels in Idlib could mean breaking the last rebel stronghold of active military opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, although there are still large areas that remain beyond the government’s control.
The UN says estimates that the assault could displace up to 800,000 people who have nowhere to go. Turkey, which is home to as many as 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has closed its border with Syria in anticipation of a new influx. “This is going to be far more catastrophic than anything we witnessed so far” in the Syrian civil war, Mona Yaoubian, an expert on Syria at the US Institute of Peace, said.
Federica Mogherini, EU’s chief diplomat, spoke about the Idlib operation and humanitarian assistance, warning that Syria did not need further bloodshed. “We discussed ways in which we can increase even more our humanitarian assistance for Syrians, including inside Syria, while still keeping a very clear position on the fact that European Union money for reconstruction in Syria will only come once the political process will be firmly underway under UN auspices,” Ms Mogherini commented.