Idlib is the last stronghold of the rebels and jihadist groups in Syria and has witnessed eight years of bloody fighting with the Syrian government. The province northwestern Syria has now become the epicentre of gross human rights violations, regular air bombardments and a space where profound superpower rivalries play out.
Idlib’s importance can be corroborated by two factors. One, that it essentially determines the faith and future of the Syrian civil war. Second, that it is currently the biggest contention point between Syria and its neighbour Turkey. Syria-Turkey relations are very important for the geopolitical stability of the region.
Idlib is home to more than 3 million people and has been controlled by different rebel factions at different periods of time. Idlib fell into rebel control in 2015 and even became the seat of the Syrian Salvation Government. However, since 2019, the most dominant rebel faction, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or HTS, took control of Idlib through a violent takeover. The HTS is an alliance of jihadist groups that formally split from the Al-Qeada in 2016.
Other than HTS the main armed forces in Idlib are the National Liberation front supported by Turkey, Hurras al-Din, a supporter of Al-Qeada, and the Turkistan Islamist party dominated by the Chinese-Uighurs Muslims. According to a United Nations Security Council report released in January 2019 there were at least 20,000 rebel fighters here, including several foreigners associated with the HTS jihadist group.
Idlib is also home to several foreign jihadists who support Al-Qeada or its affiliates. Idlib has been subject to several clashes and strikes between the rebel forces and the Syrian governement’s sources since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
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Explained: What is currently happening in Idlib?
Fighting has intensified in Idlib in the last fews weeks as a result of massive displacement, running into over half a million people.
The forces of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad backed by Russian air-power has ramped up airstrikes in Idlib. These attacks and shellings reportedly killed eight Turkish military personnel that had been deployed in the province. In a counterattack, Turkey shelled Assad’s forces. Turkey claimed they had eliminated 76 Syrian government forces, Aljazeera reported. Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan warned Syria and Assad to withdraw their forces from the contested province. Speaking in parliament, Erdogan said this clash could act as a turning point for Turkey in Syria.
Turkey also urged Russia to stop fighting. This clash has resulted in undermining various peace agreements signed between the two countries.
The European Union on Thursday called for an end to the offensives and attacks in Syria and reminded the world about the dire human rights crisis happening as a consequence of this.
How are civilians impacted in Idlib?
Approximately 520,000 people have been forced to migrate and flee their homes since December 2019. A lot of these people are moving for the second time according to the World Health Organisation.
Continuous bombings since April 2019 have resulted in killing of more than 1400 people, the Guardian reported. Many Aid agencies and global powers fear about Idlib triggering the worst humanitarian crisis in the entire Syrian war.
Women and children have been the worst affected groups in this conflict. The lack of basic facilities in Idlib is a major issue. According to the WHO more than 50 health facilities no longer function due to the dangerous environment. This has limited access to basic healthcare and a little less than 3 million people are in need of it in the northwestern part of Syria.
Idlib is the last province that is rebel-held and literally stands in way of ending of the nine-year-long Syrian civil war.
According to the UNHCR more than 5 million people have fled the country and have migrated to neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The number of internally displaced people stands at 6.5 million.
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