The end of the Syrian civil war poses a great humanitarian risk

After having reconquered the majority of Syria, the Assad government forces are preparing to lead the assault on the Idlib region, the last stronghold of the opposition. Can the humanitarian catastrophe be avoided for the three million people there?

The region of Idleb, northwest Syria, is now controlled by rebel groups, many of which are jihadists.

Following past agreements with the regime or their own, civilians and anti-regime all Syria fighters converged on the territory adjacent to Turkey in recent years. These exiles today form up to half of the population of the besieged region.

“There is a mosaic of groups in Idlib. Many of them hate each other and have spent the last few years fighting each other in addition to fighting the regime, “says Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Toronto. Ottawa.

Of these factions, the most important is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, better known as HTS.

“Originally, it’s the Syrian franchise of Al Qaeda. Officially, there was a break, but their independence from al-Qaeda is still debated by the experts, “said Juneau.

“There is a whole range of more or less extremist groups in their ideology,” the professor continues.

Inevitable victory of the regime

All these opponents of Bashar al-Assad, however, are condemned to a certain defeat.

“Since 2014-2015, there has been a gradual but very clear trend toward a military victory for the Assad regime. Iran has greatly increased its support and Russia has begun to intervene with air strikes. From this turning point in the war, we see the armed opposition, which was very fragmented, but still strong, weaken and be isolated in pockets of territory smaller and smaller, “says Thomas Juneau.

Visiting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Syrian forces would “go to the end”.

“Whatever they do, the decision of the Syrian command is the fight against the Al-Nusra Front in Idlib, whatever the sacrifices,” said the minister, using the name formerly worn by one of the divisions of the group Islamist HTS.

The head of Syrian diplomacy pledged to do everything possible to prevent the deaths of civilians.

An affirmation completely out of sync with Thomas Juneau’s analysis. “The regime has very clearly demonstrated that it has no concerns for the lives of civilians. He will literally do everything to achieve his ends, “says the professor.

In recent years, the Assad regime and its allies have developed a very effective strangling strategy.

“We saw it in Aleppo and Homs. They are surrounded on land and bombed by air with Russian and Syrian planes. That’s what we can expect in Idlib, “predicts Thomas Juneau.

The only alternative to this assault would be the success of last-chance talks in recent days. According to Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), Russia would demand a “dissolution of HTS to avoid a major offensive”.

UN envoy ready to get involved “physically”

Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy to Syria, in charge of seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, fears the possible offensive. He hopes that an evacuation corridor will be authorized before an attack.

“I am ready once again to get involved personally and physically […] to ensure that a temporary corridor is feasible and secure,” said the diplomat. Recognizing the presence of foreign fighters and 10,000 Islamist terrorists in Idlib, Staffan de Mistura wants to allow the evacuation of civilians. “The lives of 2.9 million people are at stake,” he added.

The situation is particularly dangerous because the Syrian opposition no longer controls territory where the occupants of the area on the verge of falling can be evacuated.

Western blindness?

For Aurel Braun, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, the current outcome is the final consequence of the Obama administration’s failure to act in time and with decisive force to allow the victory of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad.

“At a time when there were secular prodemocracy forces that presented a viable alternative to the Al-Assad regime, the Americans did not act,” says Braun.

For his part, Thomas Juneau speaks instead of the contradictory position of the United States today. “In the last few weeks, James Mattis, the defense secretary, said that US troops in Syria will stay there until the Geneva peace process is completed,” says the researcher.

“But that does not make sense, there is no longer a Geneva peace process! Assad is winning. He does not go to Geneva to negotiate anything, “he continues.

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