Idlib could become humanitarian disaster – NGO

Turkey and Russia should dissuade Syrian President Bashar Assad from launching an all-out assault on Idlib province in northwestern Syria in order to prevent a potential disaster, International Crisis Group said.

“Idlib, a province in north-western Syria, together with slices of territory in adjacent provinces, is the country’s largest remaining rebel stronghold. It is also a humanitarian catastrophe waiting to happen, if the Syrian regime and its allies launch an all-out assault to retake it,” the non-governmental organisation wrote.

“Tens of thousands of battle-hardened fighters, including many jihadists, are entrenched in a densely populated area. Tackling the militants head on will come at a massive human cost.”

Supported by Russia, Turkey could deploy troops to keep Assad’s forces at bay, the group said, and seek to isolate pro-Al Qaeda elements among militant Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) forces inside Idlib.

The group also acknowledged that Turkey’s present focus on pushing the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) out of Afrin made an operation in Idlib difficult, but emphasised that the displacement caused by conflict in Idlib could have direct effects for Turkey.

“Almost half of the estimated 2.65 million people currently living there are internally displaced persons (IDPs), who came to Idlib to escape regime attacks in other parts of Syria or as the result of evacuation deals,” the report said. “These people have reason to fear falling under regime control again.”