Yesterday’s agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan may postpone the military offensive the Syrian government and its allies are planning in the northern province of Idlib. But millions of civilians, most of them refugees from elsewhere in Syria, remain trapped in the province.
Putin and Erdogan agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in the province to separate government and opposition forces. This is a welcome measure to avert an offensive and protect the 3 million people in Idlib. However, it is not a long-term solution for the province.
Millions moved against their will
According to the 10th and final quarterly Siege Watch report, published this week, more than 110,000 people were expelled after the forced surrender agreements of northern Homs countryside and various suburbs around Damascus, including Eastern Ghoutha, this past spring. They joined the estimated 2.2 million other Syrians forcibly displaced to the northwest of the country. For the second time, these civilians are at risk of devastation.
Diplomacy is the way out
“We welcome a diplomatic agreement that will avert a military assault on Idlib,” says PAX’s Marjolein Wijninckx. “With so many lives at risk, the international guarantors Turkey and Russia have to commit to implementation of their agreement."
The new Siege Watch Quarterly report describes the last stage of the “surrender or die” strategy of the Assad regime with Russian and Iranian support. Through scorched earth campaigns or the threat thereof, this strategy forced besieged communities into surrender, whereupon hundreds of thousands of people, fighters and civilians, were forcibly displaced to Idlib. If the Assad regime and its allies attack Idlib, there is no place left to go.
The international community must do all it can to avoid the approaching catastrophe in Idlib province. “People are disillusioned, they have no more trust in the international community,” says Wijninckx. “This is the last chance the international community has to avert an extermination campaign in Idlib and to show the millions of people trapped in Idlib that their call for dignity was not in vain.”
See also Idlib calling; short telephone conversations with Ahmed, theater producer from Saraqeb, and friend and partner of PAX, to hear how he and his family are managing.Protection of Civilians, Middle East