Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Idlib: An Impending Fierce Battle Risking the Lives of 1 Million Syrians | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Children look up at warplanes loyal to Syria’s regime as rebel fighters try to fire at the planes in Idlib, Syria. Ammar Abdallah/Reuters

London- Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib increasingly became a refuge for militants who refused to surrender to regime forces anywhere else in the country in the ongoing civil war.

The population of the province became highly concentrated following deals brokered by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, where civilian buses and fighters have been moved north to areas controlled by opposition forces throughout Syria.

Syria’s regime had inhumanly packed an approximate million Syrians to a single slice of their homeland, who remain hopeful of a true ceasefire being implemented.

A report published by the Washington Post said that this vast and often hilly expanse along Turkey’s southern border has become the rebels’ final redoubt. In the coming months, it could become the sternest — and the bloodiest — challenge for Assad’s forces as they battle to control areas they lost to rebel fighters after the country’s 2011 uprising.

Residents say new arrivals are packed into every last space. Apartment buildings are full and rents sky-high. Many families live in tents, mud houses or even caves.

A deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran this month has stopped much of the violence in Idlib province and three other regions of Syria. But if the truces break down and fighting resumes, the stakes will be highest in the northwest: The Turkish border is tightly controlled, and pro-Assad forces have been closing in for months. Across the province, a coalition of al-Qaeda-linked rebels would be firmly in Assad’s crosshairs, with hundreds of thousands of civilians stuck in the middle.

The seven-year war has scattered more than 5 million refugees around the world. Inside Syria, even more people who want to leave are trapped.

Already struggling to accommodate earlier refugees, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have mostly closed their borders. Crossing east into Iraq risks a perilous journey through ISIS territory. So the displaced live in permanent flux, doing what they can to outrun the violence and to make ends meet when they arrive at their next destination.

If pro-regime forces tried to retake Idlib, they would face a grinding fight that would probably result in heavy casualties, especially among civilians.