Nearly 1 million Syrian civilians are fleeing from a bloody conflict between the Syrian forces of Bashar Assad, backed by Russia and pro-Iranian militias, and rebel jihadist groups backed by Turkish President Recep Erdogan in the Syrian province of Idlib. This is the largest wave of displaced people since Syria’s civil war began. Many civilians have nowhere to flee except the Turkish border where orders have been given not to let any refugees cross. Some live in the mosque, some in cars. There are no places to even put a tent. The United Nations is sounding the alarm on what is a severe humanitarian disaster.
“We remain very alarmed about the safety and protection of over 3,000,000 civilians in Idlib and surrounds, as airstrikes and shelling continue to take a heavy toll on the civilian population,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General. These people have very little food, water, shelter, healthcare, and education. “We are using up our supplies much faster than anticipated. We just do not know how many more people will need help and for how long, it is impossible to comprehend,” Mercy Corps director Kieren Barnes said. Children have frozen to death in the winter cold, including a seven-month-old baby boy and a one-year-old girl.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Syria are racing quickly towards a full-scale conflict. Idlib, which is currently held by rebel forces, is one of the last pieces of territory Assad seeks to conquer in his quest to take over the whole of Syria. Syrians for Truth and Justice report that Islamist rebel groups have taken at least 550 Christian homes and businesses in Idlib since 2018, and used them for their forces. Assad’s military is advancing on Idlib with the promise that all forces opposing his regime will be slaughtered. Assad considers anyone who resists his leadership as a terrorist. “The battle for liberating all Syrian soil, crushing terrorism, and achieving stability will also continue,” Assad said.
Turkey, partnered with Islamist jihadist forces such as al Qaeda, is threatening to launch a full-scale operation in Idlib if Assad’s forces do not retreat. Erdogan is trying to prevent a sudden influx of 900,000 Syrian refugees into his country. So far, Turkey has sent more than 10,000 troops with artillery, tanks, and armoured vehicles into Idlib. At least 15 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria last month amid a crushing offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Tensions are especially high after Erdogan vowed to take military action “everywhere in Syria” if another Turkish soldier was killed. Turkey has provided some al Qaeda groups with US-supplied weapons.
Turkey, a NATO member, has also asked the US to supply Patriot missile batteries to protect these retreating forces. The US is aware of a request for Patriot systems but “no decision has been made,” a US official said speaking on condition of anonymity. Some argue that would put the US in the role of covering an operation that supports al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the UN is working to assist the nearly 1 million civilians trapped in between Turkey and Syria’s firefight. A total of 1,227 trucks of humanitarian assistance crossed from Turkey last month compared to 928 trucks in December.
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