Despite calls for a ceasefire, Idlib and Aleppo continue to witness heavy fighting between the forces of the Syrian Government and Opposition, with the increasing involvement of Turkish troops threatening to increase the geopolitical stakes.
“Idlib has become an example for avoiding punishment”. These are the words of David Milliband, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee. Milliband’s comments came as heavy fighting in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces of Syria continue amidst an on-going Syrian Arab Army (SAA) offensive. The SAA offensive, which captured the entirety of the strategic M5 Highway that stretches between Daraa and Aleppo, has cut down the Syrian Opposition-held parts of Idlib and western Aleppo in half, leaving the displaced population of the region with an ever-diminishing safe-haven.
Milliband, alongside the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, warned that the situation, which has seen hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians seek refuge along the Turkish Border, could trigger a new refugee crisis that could overwhelm Turkey and reach Europe. It is out of fear of this scenario that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has taken an increasingly active role in Idlib. However, this increased activity has also brought the TSK increasingly in conflict with the SAA.
Over the past weeks, hostile incidents between the TSK and the SAA picked up significantly. The SAA’s shelling of a TSK post near Saraqib resulted in the deaths of at least five Turkish soldiers. Since then, Ankara has threatened severe retaliation against the SAA. Despite these threats, however, the SAA has pushed closer towards TSK positions, eliciting more warnings and occasionally fire from the Turkish forces, significantly raising the geopolitical stakes in the process. Overnight, the SAA has started attacking the Brigade 42 Base which has been held by the Opposition since 2012. Damascus has justified these operations on grounds that Idlib is being held by Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and it does not attack civilians, further accusing Ankara of supporting the group instead of separating it from the mainstream Syrian Opposition like the Sochi Agreement asked for. However, Ankara and the United Nations argued that as many as 800,000 people have been displaced since December, citing it as proof of the SAA’s targeting of civilians.
There have been talks of a new round of ceasefires being discussed between Ankara and Moscow. However, on the ground, heavy fighting continues, with no signs of de-escalation.