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Syrian Civil War - 2020

Syria has been engulfed in a devastating war since 2011, with the government forces fighting against several opposition groups, as well as with militant and terrorist organisations, including Daesh. Idlib, which has been designated a de-escalation zone, remains one of the last territories partly outside the control of the central Syrian government. The province is the last stronghold of militants in the Arab republic. According to Syrian President Bashar Assad, liberating Idlib is essential to putting an end to the nation's civil conflict.

The United Nations Security Council renewed its cross-border humanitarian aid operation in Syria, but the number of crossings and length of authorisation has been reduced. Aid deliveries will continue from Turkey, paragraphs 2 and 3 of Security Council resolution 2165 (2014), for six months, but two cross-border points - the Al-Yarubiyah border crossing with Iraq and the Al-Ramtha crossing with Jordan - were dropped. The United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia abstained from voting on the resolution, while other 11 members voted in favor.

The cross-border assistance mechanism was established back in 2014 and has since been renewed every year. It allows humanitarian aid to be delivered through UN-approved checkpoints. Russia has been extremely concerned about who is actually receiving aid deliveries in Syria, fearing that the original 2014 resolution was politicised in order to favor certain groups over others.

Russia and Turkey agreed to introduce a ceasefire in the province, starting at 00:00 local time (22:00 GMT) on 12 January 2020. Three corridors through which civilians could leave Idlib de-escalation zone started to operate, namely Al-Hadher in the Aleppo province, Abu Adh Dhuhur and Hobait in Idlib.

Ankara wished to discuss with Moscow the creation of a safe zone in the Idlib province of Syria, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters on 15 January 2020. "Approximately 600,000 refugees from Idlib have already approached our border, we are trying to help them. Idlib residents do not want to go to areas controlled by the government, and we are thinking of talking with Russia about creating a safe zone for them," Akar said, as cited by the Turkiye newspaper. The defence minister added that 12 Turkish observations posts in the Idlib province "will not go anywhere."

Idlib Province, in the north-west of the Syrian Arab Republic, remains dominated by groups affiliated with Al-Qaida but also plays host to relocated ISIL fighters and dependants. Parts of Iraq, especially the area of Anbar Province bordering the Syrian Arab Republic, also represent a permissive security environment for the movement of ISIL fighters.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Syrian government forces lost up to 40 people dead and 80 wounded due to attacks by militants in Idlib from January 22 to 23, 2020. About 450 militants attacked government troops in the Syrian province of Idlib on the evening of January 22, killing up to 40 military personnel. This was announced by the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria (part of the Ministry of Defense). On January 22, with the onset of dark time on the Abu-Jreif Female route, up to 200 militants of the Islamic Party of Turkestan group [banned in the Russian Federation], with the support of 20 pickups, one tank, two BMPs and two jihad mobiles, attacked Syrian positions government troops, "the report said. The Center noted that before the attack, militants fired on the positions of the Syrian troops with the help of "balloons" and multiple launch rocket systems, as well as handicraft drones.

An assault on rebel-held northwest Syria by regime forces has pushed some 700,000 people to flee toward the Turkish border and raised the spectre of an international crisis, US Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said on 30 Janaury 2020. Backed by Russian air power, regime forces have advanced on Idlib at a rapid clip since last week, taking back dozens of towns and upending a region where millions have taken refuge since the start of Syria's nearly nine-year war. The campaign had ratcheted up tensions between Moscow and Ankara. Turkey fears a fresh wave of migrants piling across its border and has a dozen observation posts in Idlib, part of a de-escalation agreement it says Russia is now violating.

Speaking at an online news briefing, Jeffrey said that in the last three days Syrian regime and Russian warplanes had hit Idlib with 200 air strikes "mainly against civilians", and that several Turkish observation posts had been "cut off" by the regime advance. There are "massive movements of troop s pushing back hundreds of square kilometres and setting - I think now - 700,000 people who are already internally displaced on the move once again towards the Turkish border, which will then create an international crisis," said Jeffrey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 03 February 2020 that close to one million people in Syrias Idlib were marching toward Turkish borders. Speaking in Kiev, Erdogan said developments in Syrias northwestern region of Idlib had become unmanageable, after Ankara said Syrian shelling killed six of its troops there. Turkish forces hit 54 targets in Idlib and neutralised 76 Syrian government soldiers, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was cited as saying by the state-owned Anadolu news agency.

Five Turkish soldiers were killed 10 February 2020 in an attack carried out by Syrian government forces in Syria's northwest. A further five troops were wounded in Monday's shelling on a military base in Idlib province, the last rebel-held stronghold in the war-torn country. The "regime's intense artillery fire targeted our elements sent as reinforcement to the region with an aim to prevent clashes in Idlib, ensure our border security and stop migration and human tragedy", the ministry said. Al Jazeera's Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syrian side of the border, said the attack targeted the Taftanaz military base, which the Turkish army took over from Syrian military last week to establish a new observation post. "The latest escalation is seen as the highest escalation that has ever happened between Ankara and Damascus in Syria's nine-year war," she said.

The United Nations said 10 February 2020 that nearly 700,000 civilians have been displaced by the latest Syrian government offensive against the rebel-held northwest since early December 2019, including some 100,000 in the past week alone. David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the situation was increasingly dire near the border with Turkey, where more than 400,000 people had already taken shelter from earlier anti-rebel offensives last year.

The Syrian army said on 17 February 2020 it had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppos northwestern countryside and it would press on with its campaign to wipe out militant groups wherever they are found The advances were made after President Bashar al-Assads forces drove insurgents from the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, reopening the fastest route between Syrias two biggest cities for the first time in years in a big strategic gain for Assad.

The UN said 17 February 2020 that 900,000 people had been uprooted by violence in northwest Syria since December 100,000 more than previously recorded as the Syrian army said it had retaken dozens of towns in Aleppo province. The Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in northwest Syria has displaced 900,000 people since the start of December and babies are dying of cold because aid camps are full, the UN said. That figure is 100,000 more than the United Nations had previously recorded.

Syria MapThe M5 highway has been a critical road map of destruction as the regime seeks to establish a semblance of sovereignty over Syria and, more importantly, to connect to Aleppo, formerly an economic hub. This highway has economic importance because it connects the city of Aleppo, which was the industrial capital, with Damascus and also continued to the southern border that was the main highway for transit trade, whose revenues were previously estimated at $3 billion annually, from 150,000 trucks. Beginning in December 2019, the Assad regime moved aggressively to conquer the M5 section of the road that is still within Idlib, making it difficult for Damascus to tighten its grip on Aleppo, a city it conquered in 2016. Of such critical importance was the M5 highway that between 2012 and 2016, regime forces in Aleppo could only be supplied through airdrops or new hastily built backroads.

The Assad regime offensive and capture of Saraqib, a town at the intersection between the M4 and M5 in Idlib province, was a strategic coup. Not only did the regime open up a critical part of the M5 motorway leading to North Aleppo but also west to the M4 highway leading to Jisr Al Shughur one of the largest cities in Idlib province and still under rebel control from there to Latakia.

The Assad regime's capture of the city of Ma'arrat Al Nu' man along the M5 highway, previously one of the few places still under rebel control in Idlib, suggests that Damascus and its backers want to push rebels and civilians alike to the countryside in their bid to control urban centres. Russia is trying to rearrange things in Syria to convince the world that the problems in Syria are over and that Assad won against the 'terrorists'.

Many of the remaining opposition-held areas, whether in Afrin, Idlib or the outskirts of Aleppo, hold ordinary Syrians who don't want to live under the Assad regime and the brutality of its secret service and may not want reconciliation. Syrians living in regime-recaptured territories previously opposed to Assad have repeatedly faced reprisals from the Syrian regime.

Ankara and Damascus appeared to be heading towards a military confrontation. Following intense talks in Moscow, Turkish and Russian delegations failed to reach any consensus over the Assad regimes ongoing offensive in the Idlib province, the last opposition stronghold. Russians offered Turkey a strip of land close to the border to create a safe zone in order to relocate millions of potential internally displaced people in Idlib. Ankara rejected the offer straight out, seeing it as a definite violation of the 2018 de-confliction zone agreement between Ankara and Moscow.

"We are entering the last days for the [Syrian] regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached the desired results in talks held in our country, in Russia and in the field," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a speech on 19 February 2020. Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. Like every operation we carried out, I say that we can imminently come at any point one night".

Turkey already hosts nearly four million refugees from the war-torn country. Another three million, most of whom were forced to flee Idlib from other regions of the country under the regime's control, are living in the last opposition bastion. It means in total one-third of the countrys population has no desire to live under the Assad regime, choosing potentially freezing to death or to living in muddy refugee camps. On the other hand, one-third of the country is under the US-backed YPG/PKK terror group's rule, which is laying down across northeastern Syria. In the case of a Syrian breakup, its not clear how Turkey would react in terms of its controlled territories in northern Syria, which covers some parts of the Aleppo Vilayet from the Ottoman period.

The absurdity of the war in Syria was in evidence on 24 February 2020 when Russia and Turkey conducted a joint patrol along the Turkish-Syrian border while Turkish forces were being attacked by Russian/SAA artillery/aviation in Idlib (with Russian UAVs aiding targeting). This is the first time that a joint patrol has been conducted on the border in Kobani province after Turkey refrained from taking joint patrols twice, on the third and 13th of this month, and refused to go out twice in the territory of Al-Jazeera as well, in protesting against the recent escalation of regime forces and Russia in Idlib. Turkey resumed patrols with the Russian side about a week ago when it took part in a patrol that took place in Ad-Dirbsiy countryside. Russia was conducting patrols on its own when Turkish forces refrained from leaving.

Any peace talks with militants holed up in the last pockets of resistance in Idlib have nothing to do with human rights instead, they amount to a capitulation, the Russian foreign minister said in a swipe at US proposals. Sergey Lavrov made the stark comments as intense fighting raged in Idlib province, controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda franchise previously known as Al-Nusra. Some UN members tend to "justify the atrocities of radical and terrorist groups," the foreign minister told a UN Human Rights Council meeting on 25 February 2020. It is difficult to explain "exhortations about the possibility of peace agreements being made with the thugs as it takes place when the situation in Idlib is discussed," he noted. Therefore, talking about a ceasefire with terrorists is nothing but "surrendering to terrorists, or even encouraging their activities".

Syria opened the M5 highway, the important highway that connects Damascus to Aleppo, and on 04 March 2020, the major attack was launched on an important town on that highway. Its actually the junction of the M5 and the M4 highway; the town is called Saraqib. The militants captured the town - so they broke the control of the government of that highway, and they killed a bunch of Syrian soldiers in the process.

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Page last modified: 09-03-2020 18:57:42 ZULU