Civilians pay the gravest price as war in Syria escalates

WION
Delhi Updated: Mar 03, 2020, 09:01 PM(IST)

File photo: Idlib, Syria. Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

Turkey and Syria are locked in a bitter tit-for-tat conflict in the North-Eastern Syrian province of Idlib.

Tensions are running very high between Turkey and Russia-backed Syria. Syrian government forces are intensifying attacks on a Turkey-backed rebel stronghold.

The prospect of an all-out war leaves millions of Syrian civilians trapped in the middle. Two nights ago, thousands of Syrian refugees were pushing against the fence at the Greek border.

The Greek police deployed its anti-riot squad and fired tear gas against the refugees, including women and children, who were all stuck in the no man's land.

So, once the land routes were shut, they set sail in dinghies to the Greek islands. But, a Syrian boy has died after one of the rubber dinghies capsized. He is the first casualty of a fresh wave of migration.

It brings back haunting memories of the Syrian toddler, whose dead body washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015. The refugees can't return to their homes anytime soon

Turkey and Syria are locked in a bitter tit-for-tat conflict in the North-Eastern Syrian province of Idlib.

Amid heavy Russian bombardment, clashes are continuing between Syrian government forces and armed rebel groups in the province. Street battles in the key town of Saracen continue - neither side is able to hold the city.

But, Bashar al-Assad has pledged to 'confront the flagrant Turkish aggression'. It all began when the forces loyal to the Syrian government attacked the last rebel stronghold in Idlib. 

Turkey immediately intervened for two reasons - first, the Syrian offensive triggered the largest single wave of displacement in the nine-year war. 

It sent 9,50,000 Syrian refugees towards the Turkish border. Turkey already hosts 4.1 million refugees, including 3.7 million Syrians. So, it said it can't allow any more refugees to enter its borders.

Second, Turkey backs some rebel groups in Syria, so it sent tanks and troops as reinforcement to counter the Syrian offensive. 

Idlib was designated a de-escalation zone in a 2018 agreement between Turkey and Russia, who back opposing sides and Ankara has repeatedly demanded that al-Assad's forces withdraw behind a line determined by Turkey.

Although Turkey showed restraint initially, it vowed revenge when Turkish soldiers were killed in a Syrian bombardment. In a recent attack, Turkey lost 34 soldiers to an airstrike, allegedly carried out by Syria. This provoked President Erdogan to threaten Russia and Syria to fall behind the line or face a ruthless offensive.

This raises the risk of direct military confrontation between Turkey and Russia. The prospect of an all-out war leaves millions of Syrian civilians trapped in the middle. The movement of migrants to the West could continue if the situation in Idlib deteriorates further.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour, and as always, civilians are paying the gravest price.

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