Idlib: Erdogan opposes al-Assad and Putin

According to OCHA, the youngest wave of escape – the 390,000 who made their way between December 1 and January 27 – is largely made up of 80 percent women and children

Source: Sergei Chirikov / Reuters

An estimated 120,000 people in Idlib are said to have decided to flee in the past two weeks. There is also a circulation of almost 400,000 internally displaced persons who have sought refuge from the attacks since the beginning of December.

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In addition, according to a current report by the UN aid organization OCHA, an additional 400,000 are estimated to have left their homes in northwestern Syria between May and August 2019.

According to OCHA, the youngest wave of escape – the 390,000 who made their way between December 1 and January 27 – is largely made up of 80 percent women and children. They mostly come from the larger population centers such as Saraqab and Ma’ratt an-Nu’man (often: Ma’arat al-Numan), as the aid organization reports.

It is feared that the flow of internally displaced persons will increase in the next few days, as the current offensive by the Syrian army is concentrating precisely on the two cities and their surroundings.

So far, Turkey has kept its borders closed to the refugees

Many of the internally displaced persons have been displaced several times, which can also explain why it is so difficult to accurately record the numbers of internally displaced persons. However, there is no denying the huge housing and supply problem that arises from the flight of hundreds of thousands. According to the aid organization, the camps and other accommodation options are at the load limit. Most of the internally displaced persons of the past eight and a half weeks have been named Afrin and the

Areas near Azaz and al-Bab.

Both zones are located north of Aleppo and, like Afrin, not far from the Turkish border. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that Turkey is facing a problem, and just a little more imagination to suspect that this problem could also affect Europe. So far, Turkey has kept its borders closed to the refugees. An opening would also be difficult to convey to the Turkish population.

However, observers are wondering how long Turkey can hold this situation, especially if the pressure increases with further refugee movements to locations near the border and massive protests at the border could develop as a result (see: Idlib: The Rage of the Jihad Militias to Turkey). Afrin and the areas in northern Syria, which Turkey has occupied since its invasion in October, are unsuitable for accepting hundreds of thousands of displaced people from Idlib. That would endanger the security situation in both regions.

On the other hand, if the border were opened, the Turkish government would also have to fear security problems caused by jihadists who come into the country and may put pressure on the government in Ankara there.

The “giant problem” (Merkel)

One of the regularities of the past few months has been Erdogan’s threats to the EU when it came to Turkish problems with refugees from Syria. It can be assumed that this will also be the case if the situation of the refugees on the border with Turkey continues to deteriorate.

The “huge problem” (Merkel) of the refugees in northern Syria was already addressed during the Chancellor’s recent visit to Ankara. It signaled uncritical willingness to support a situation in which Turkey is largely responsible.

Erdogan’s anger and the relationship with the HTS

Erdogan’s anger is currently directed against the Syrian army and his demands on Russia. His anger at the Idlib offensive also reveals where he sees his camp. Last Wednesday his collar apparently burst:

“We have waited patiently until now. Recently there was shell fire from Aleppo on our side (!). Our representatives informed their Russian interlocutors that they would either ensure that the bombings stopped or we would continue in our own way.” (Recep Tayyip Erdogan)

He expects Russia to “give the regime a necessary warning,” Erdogan told journalists. Interesting is an addition that brightens up what the Turkish president means by “our side”:

“Russia tells us that they are fighting terrorism. Who are the terrorists The people struggling to defend their country?” (Recep Tayyip Erdogan)

Does the al-Qaida offshoot Hayat at Tahrir asch-Scham (HTS) also belong to these groups, which Erdogan, in contrast to the YPG, does not want to have called terrorists? Relations between the Turkish government, its military and its HTS intelligence agency remain difficult to understand.

The occasional cooperation is due to the fact that the Turkish soldiers who manned the observation posts at the “de-escalation zone” in Idlib depend on the favor of the HTS militias to get there and get supplies ,

But, as a man from the “German bakery in Idlib” makes clear in an interview (with a few interesting details from the everyday life of the jihadists there), there are also ideologically-religious distances – which, however, does not rule out that it is too Cooperation, also military, can come if the opportunity speaks for it. The choice of Erdogan alone suggests this.
Allegations towards Russia

The statements of the Turkish president also make it clear that there is “rumbling” between Erdogan and Putin. At any rate, Erdogan’s demand that Russia influence the Syrian government suggests anger. Erdogan also accuses Russia of failing to comply with agreements made in Astana and Sochi.

Russia’s Air Force supports the Syrian army’s offensive in Idlib, where the Turkish and Syrian military are on different fronts. Meanwhile, the offensive has resulted in Turkish observation posts being included again. Erdigan won’t like that either.

“Military units advanced north along the M5 motorway and are now about 16 kilometers from Saraqib, along two highways in a strategically favorable position, opening the door to it eponymous provincial capital Idlib. The move also encircled and isolated a Turkish military base, trapping dozens of Turkish soldiers. The Turkish soldiers were actually tasked with monitoring the ceasefire negotiated between Russia and Turkey, but effectively only expanded Turkey’s influence in Idlib. Overall, it is the third “observation point”, which could be besieged as a result of the Idlib offensive.” (Philip Klaus, Flutterbareer)

The situation report cited comes from last Tuesday. The Syrian army had just conquered the strategically important city of Ma’arat al-Numan and was in the process of securing the conquest with military actions in the area. The next goal is Saraqib.

The city appears to be about to be captured by the Syrian army, which is an important step closer to its major goal of regaining control of the M5 expressway connection between Damascus and Aleppo, which is vital for the government. According to information from SOHR – the quality of which can vary widely – Turkish military personnel and their allies stand in the way of the Syrian National Army using heavy equipment and weapons north of Saraqib, the official Syrian army.

If this information is true, this would also refer to a cooperation between Turkey and the al-Qaida group HTS.

The author of the article is Thomas Pany. Thomas Pany studied political science with Kurt Sontheimer at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, plus modern history and Semitic studies. The original article has been published in Telepolis. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.

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