Turkish reinforcements sent into Syria’s Idlib
BEIRUT — Turkey sent in military reinforcements Thursday to beef up its positions inside Syria’s last rebel bastion Idlib, activists reported, even as the Turkish defence minister said Ankara is still trying with Russia and Iran to prevent a humanitarian tragedy in the case of a threatened Syrian government offensive.
Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, said a military operation in the densely populated rebel enclave would drag the already problematic region toward disaster. He spoke during a meeting with foreign ambassadors late Wednesday, according to the staterun Turkish Anadolu Agency.
“We are working with Russia, Iran and other allies to bring peace and stability and to stop a humanitarian tragedy,” Akar said, according to Anadolu.
The UN said that in the first 12 days of September, more than 30,000 people have been displaced by an intense aerial bombing campaign. Most of the displaced headed toward the border with Turkey, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, packing already overcrowded camps there. Nearly half of Idlib’s 3 million citi- zens are already displaced by conflict in other parts of Syria.
In the case of an offensive, the UN estimates nearly 700,000 will be displaced inside Idlib, and about 100,000 will head to nearby government-held areas.
An emergency plan is in place and the UN has asked donors for $311 million to cover those expected to be in need, said OCHA regional humanitarian co-ordinator Panos Moumtzis.
“We hope it won’t happen ... we hope it will not be needed,” said Moumtzis, speaking in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Turkish deployment comes amid a lull in a concerted government and Russian aerial bombing campaign on the southern edge of Idlib.
The rebels have held Idlib province since 2015 but a government offensive captured chunks on the eastern flanks of the province last year before Turkey began deploying its observation points and halting the advances.
In recent weeks, Syrian government forces have been massing to the south and southwest of the province, and in recent days launched an intense aerial bombing campaign targeting rebel positions, three medical centres and rescue workers last week.
Above: A Syrian opposition fighter trains in a camp in the Turkish-controlled northwestern city of Azaz, Syria. Turkey has sent military reinforcements into Syria’s Idlib province ahead of a possible government offensive.