Crisis Group : Averting Disaster in Syria’s Idlib Province | Crisis Group
What happened? The de-escalation zone in north-western Syria is on the brink of collapse. Boosted by Russian air support, Syrian regime troops are advancing toward the Idlib region. Amid obstruction by the Syrian regime and Iran-backed militias, Turkish troops took up positions near the front lines in early February.
Why did it happen? The area is controlled by the jihadist alliance Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which until now has rejected de-escalation. Russia, Iran and Western powers consider HTS an irreconcilable terrorist organisation that must be defeated militarily. Turkey has a more nuanced view, but it has been preoccupied with its fight against Kurdish forces.
Why does it matter? A regime offensive into the heart of Idlib may be imminent. It would likely involve aerial bombardment and a battle against thousands of militants in densely populated areas, creating another humanitarian catastrophe and prompting an exodus toward the Turkish border, further straining Turkey’s ability to cope with large numbers of Syria refugees.
What should be done? Turkey should deploy along the front line in cooperation with Russia, which should press the Syrian regime to delay, or even desist from, its assault. This would buy time for renewed Turkish efforts to curtail transnational jihadist influence within HTS in favour of militants more open to de-escalation and compromise.