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World In Syria’s ravaged Idlib, Russian airstrikes underscore wider strategies in region

04:16  14 february  2020
04:16  14 february  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

NW Syria violence displaces 500,000 in two months

  NW Syria violence displaces 500,000 in two months A Russian-backed Syrian government offensive against the country's last rebel enclave has displaced more than half a million people in two months, the United Nations said Tuesday. "Since 1 December, some 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority –- 80 percent -- of them women and children," David Swanson, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said. The wave of displacement, which coincides with a biting winter, is one of the largest since the start of the Syrian war nearly nine years ago.

Russia ’ s rosy depiction of Syria is stark contrast to the dystopian images from Idlib — the smoking ruins of bombed-out homes and displaced people forced to flee. And Russia Russia has given the offensive its full support, through airstrikes . Moscow’ s goal is not just backing an old friend, Syria .

ISTANBUL — Russian and Syrian warplanes pounded rebel-held areas of Syria ' s Idlib province Monday in raids that struck hospitals, collapsed an apartment building and included a possible chlorine gas attack, residents Rebel factions are seeking to hold on to some of their last strongholds in Syria .

MOSCOW —Here's one take on Syria: "On the whole, the situation in Syria has stabilized considerably. Peaceful life is returning to the country. Its economy and social life is being restored."

That was from the Russian Foreign Ministry, only conceding a few tense hotspots, in its Jan. 23 briefing.

Here’s another take, from U.S. special envoy for Syria James F. Jeffrey, last week: “We think that this is an extremely dangerous conflict. You see the problems right now in Idlib. It needs to be brought to an end. Russia needs to change its policies.”

Syria regime seizes swathes of key town in Idlib offensive

  Syria regime seizes swathes of key town in Idlib offensive Government forces Thursday seized large parts of the key highway town of Saraqeb as they pushed an offensive in the last rebel enclave in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said. Weeks of intensive aerial bombardment and a bruising ground offensive have emptied entire towns in the Idlib region and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

Russia conducts airstrikes in Idlib de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria , according to civil defense groups. Esref Musa and Mehmet Burak Karacaoglu Turkey remains the country with most refugees in the world, hosting more than 3.7 million migrants since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

Russian warplanes on Saturday targeted the southern edge of Idlib province in Syria with an intense wave of airstrikes . To read more

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Russia’s rosy depiction of Syria is in stark contrast to the dystopian images from Idlib — the smoking ruins of bombed-out homes and displaced people forced to flee. Families weep over the charred remains of their dead, killed in bomb attacks by Syrian or Russian planes.

The Syrian regime is determined to wipe out the last stronghold of rebel resistance in Idlib province, in Syria’s northwest bordering Turkey. And Russia has given the offensive its full support, through airstrikes.

Moscow’s goal is not just backing an old friend, Syria. It’s also about projecting Russian global power against NATO, all the while juggling President Vladimir Putin’s complicated friendship with another like-minded authoritarian, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Russian air strikes kill 5 civilians in Syria: monitor

  Russian air strikes kill 5 civilians in Syria: monitor Russian air strikes Monday killed at least five civilians in the last major opposition bastion in northwestern Syria bringing the death toll to 25 in less than 24 hours, a monitor said. © Ibrahim Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images IDLIB, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 9: Damaged areas are seen after Russian and Syrian regime forces carried out airstrikes in northwestern Syriaâs Idlib de-escalation zone, killing at least 17 civilians, on February 9, 2020. The White Helmets said areas near Idlibâs city center and villages were targeted.

Russian and Syrian regime forces carried out airstrikes in northwestern Syria ’ s Idlib de-escalation zone, killing at least 17 civilians, a Syrian civil defense group announced Sunday. The White Helmets said areas near Idlib ’s city center and villages were targeted.

Russia says it has launched airstrikes targeting militant infrastructure in Syria ' s northern Idlib province, where the government is expected to launch a major offensive against the rebels' last major stronghold. The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that four jets struck targets linked to an

Russian and Syrian warplanes have hit civilian targets such as hospitals, bakeries and markets, according to observers. The strategy, they say, seems calculated to drive civilians out, depopulating towns and villages, so that the Syrian military can sweep through unchallenged.

The population, many of whom have fled their homes once or twice before during Syria’s long civil war, are fleeing toward the Turkish border. But they are blocked from entry, leaving them stranded, forced to find shelter in unfinished buildings, abandoned schools or under trees in the freezing winter.

a close up of a map: A map locating Idlib, Syria A map locating Idlib, Syria

The toll on civilians is devastating. But neither this, nor Western outrage, appears to shift Russia’s military calculus, according to Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, of the Jamestown Foundation.

“The Russian military says their attacks are precise, that no civilian was hurt,” he said. “But, of course, everyone understands that that’s hogwash.”

Buoyed by U.S., Erdogan Vows to Expel Syrian Forces From Idlib

  Buoyed by U.S., Erdogan Vows to Expel Syrian Forces From Idlib Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to drive Russian-backed Syrian government forces from the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, escalating his threats against Damascus after being buoyed by rare public support from the U.S. © Photographer: AREF TAMMAWI/AFP A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles passes through the city of Idlib, in northwestern Syria, near the Syria-Turkey border, late on February 7, 2020.

Russia has carried out airstrikes in northwestern Syria ' s Idlib de-escalation zone, killing at least four civilians, a Syrian civil defense group announced Wednesday. The Syrian opposition aircraft observatory said the Russian jets targeted areas near the western Aleppo province.

Attack comes as Brussels pushes for Assad to agree to a UN-sanctioned political settlement.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Syria expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said Russia and Syria now seem committed to a military advance, which may leave a mere sliver of land along the Turkish border for rebels and the 3 million Idlib civilians. Another part of the offensive, she said, appeared intent in breaking their spirit by creating misery and fear.

“Their track record throughout this war has demonstrated this time and time again. I don’t think they care about civilian casualties and, at times, they even find them useful for their policy of purposeful depopulation of the areas of the front lines,” Tsurkov said.

Aside from a close alliance with Syria going back many decades, Russia’s main strategic interest is two crucial military bases: the Hmeimim air base and the Tartus naval base, giving it a prized military foothold on the Mediterranean Sea and the doorstep of NATO member Turkey.

a group of people standing on top of a snow covered mountain: Internally displaced people walk on snow near tents in Azaz, Syria. on Feb. 13, 2020.© Khalil Ashawi/Reuters Internally displaced people walk on snow near tents in Azaz, Syria. on Feb. 13, 2020.

“The Kremlin has a much wider view than the internal Syrian petty infighting,” Felgenhauer said.

Trump calls for Russia to stop backing Syrian 'atrocities'

  Trump calls for Russia to stop backing Syrian 'atrocities' President Donald Trump has called for Russia to end its support for the Syrian regime's "atrocities" as he expressed US concern over violence in the Idlib region, the White House said Sunday. In a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump "expressed concern over the violence in Idlib, Syria and... conveyed the United States' desire to see an end to Russia's support for the Assad regime's atrocities.

Russia attack ISIS - Russia vs. ISIS - Russian airtrikes in Syria - Iraq war - Syria war - Kurds - ISIS - Sinjar battle - Kobane battle - Kobani - female

IDLIB , Syria – Russian airstrikes have shown no mercy and smashed terrorist positions in a town in the jihadist-held northwest province of Syria ’ s Idlib . Russian airstrikes targeted the town of Jisr al-Shogur, the stronghold of the Uighur Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP). The TIP is a terrorist organization

Most crucial is Hmeimim air base, which provides air cover for the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean. Protecting those means securing the rule of Russian ally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

“That’s the main driving point for Russia,” Felgenhaur said. “As a major strategic geopolitical asset, Hmeimim should be safe from any rogue forces. These two bases are projecting force out of Syria into the Mediterranean but from the Russian point of view, they should have a secure perimeter.”

Russia’s support for Syria’s drive to regain territory in Idlib risks jeopardizing another strategic prize for Moscow: its attempt to build closer ties with Turkey.

The bonds between Putin and Erdogan have driven a wedge between Turkey and its main NATO ally, the United States. And that rift has further empowered Russia as the dominant player in Syria.

Idlib is another test for Turkey and Russia. Erdogan’s government will not easily accept an enclave of several million desperate, impoverished people on its border, because of the risk that large numbers would find their way across, Tsurkov said.

Turkey has accused Russia of violating their 2018 agreement, signed between Putin and Erdogan in the Russian city of Sochi, that was intended to create a demilitarized zone between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters.

Trump speaks with Turkey's Erdogan amid growing tensions in Syria

  Trump speaks with Turkey's Erdogan amid growing tensions in Syria President Trump spoke with Turkey's president on Saturday just days after U.S. forces clashed with Syrian government forces near an area where Turkish forces are attempting to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees. © UPI Photo Trump speaks with Turkey's Erdogan amid growing tensions in Syria Deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere told pool reporters Sunday evening that Trump had spoken with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a day earlier and "expressed concern over the violence in Idlib, Syria," referring to recent clashes between Turkish and Syrian government forces in the region.

The war in Syria : five questions answered. His position looked tenuous at one point during the eight-year conflict, but thanks to international allies like Russia and Iran, President Assad has won back control of most of Syria , and has set his sights on Idlib .

Rights groups and observers lay bare human cost of Moscow’ s campaign as Putin declares military drawdown.

a person riding on the back of a truck: Displaced Syrians flee the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib provinces toward Syria's northwestern Afrin district near the border with Turkey on Feb. 13, 2020.© Rami Al Sayed/Afp Via Getty Images Displaced Syrians flee the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib provinces toward Syria's northwestern Afrin district near the border with Turkey on Feb. 13, 2020.

But Russia has also charged Turkey with breaching its obligation under the deal to rid the area of extremist militias such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate that is now the biggest opposition fighting group in Syria. The Syrian government, meanwhile, was to be given access to the strategic M5 highway, which links the capital Damascus to the major city of Aleppo.

Although Turkey dispatched troops to establish observation posts along the zone, other aspects of the deal, including the removal of extremist fighters, were never implemented.

Last April, Syrian government forces launched an offensive to take back the area, culminating in the recapture by the government forces of the M5 highway earlier this week.

Syria and Russia argue their advance was in response to attacks by terrorists.

“The most important thing we are talking about is the fight against terrorism which the armed forces of the Syrian Arab republic are leading, on Syria’s territory,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Thursday.

The crisis has escalated sharply in recent days. Erdogan demanded that Russia stop Syria’s advance and issued an ultimatum that Syria withdraw to 2018 positions by the end of the month.

With the strategic M5 route now back in government hands, there is a chance Russia and Turkey will again strike a deal to de-escalate, analysts say. Neither Putin nor Erdogan has an interest in a complete breakdown in their relationship, they say.

Merkel, Macron urge Putin to end conflict in Syria's Idlib

  Merkel, Macron urge Putin to end conflict in Syria's Idlib SYRIA-SECURITY/EUROPE (URGENT):Merkel, Macron urge Putin to end conflict in Syria's IdlibGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke together by phone with the Russian leader while at a European Union summit in Brussels.

On 14 April 2018, beginning at 04:00 Syrian time (UTC+3), the United States, France, and the United Kingdom carried out a series of military strikes involving aircraft and ship-based missiles against

Reports suggest high number of casualties, mainly Russians , in Deir Ezzor region last week.

The danger that the conflict could escalate further remains, however.

The Syrian army — now bolstered by an influx of Iranian-backed Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — has shown no sign that it is prepared to halt its advance.

“I think Turkey is in over its head in Idlib … It has placed its forces in a highly vulnerable position,” Tsurkov said. “They’re sitting ducks.”

As the stakes grow higher, Russia’s calculation seems to be that Erdogan will back down.

“The positions of both sides are drastically incompatible,” Felgenhauer said. “There’s a belief in Moscow that Erdogan cannot be serious, that he cannot risk a confrontation with Russia and will collapse if we put enough pressure on him.”

“But if he doesn’t?” he added. “That may be a problem.”

Putin had significant leverage over Erdogan said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey analyst and author of “Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East.”

Russia has provided Turkey with military weapons and does not press Erdogan over human rights and others issues like some of Turkey’s Western partners.

In Libya’s ongoing battles, Moscow and Ankara are backing opposite sides. Turkey, with financial and strategic interests in Libya, badly wants Russia to dial back its intervention in the conflict.

“Putin has now made Turkey so dependent on him,” Cagaptay said. “He is a 3-D chess player.”

robyn.dixon@washpost.com

liz.sly@washpost.com

kareem.fahim@washpost.com

Sly reported from Beirut and Fahim from Gaziantep, Turkey.

Russian and Turkish Defense Ministers Discuss Syria’s Idlib .
Russian and Turkish defense ministers discussed the situation in Syria’s city of Idlib after leaders of both countries agreed intensify consultations. © AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images Residents watch as a Turkish military convoy that crossed from the border with Syria, passes through the Syrian rebel-held town of Hazano in Idlib's northern countryside, on February 22, 2020.

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