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Turkey Now Claims Syria’s Idlib Province as Turkish Territory

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On February 26th, Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President, told his Islamist political party that Idlib, which is the most heavily jihadist of all of Syria’s provinces and the province where Syria had been sending jihadists who had been defeated but not killed by the Syrian army elsewhere in the Syrian war, is now permanently under Turkey’s protection, and belongs to Turkey — Turkish territory. Russia’s RT news headlined on the 26th, “‘We’re the hosts there’: Erdogan says Turkey won’t pull back from Syria’s sovereign territory, gives Assad ultimatum to retreat”, and reported that, 

The Turkish leader has ruled out withdrawal from Idlib, where his forces are backing militants fighting the Syrian Army. He also gave Damascus an ultimatum to retreat beyond Turkey’s observation posts placed on Syrian soil.

“We will not step back in Idlib. We are not the guests in this realm, we are the hosts,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his AK party on Wednesday. Vowing to bring “the regime’s attacks” to an end, Erdogan said Ankara is giving Damascus time to pull forces back from Turkish observation posts.

The very next day, on the 27th, the Turkish English-language newspaper Yeni Safak bannered “Situation in Syria’s Idlib ‘in favor of Turkey’: Turkish president says Turkey has also reversed situation in Libya, which was previously in favor of Libyan warlord Haftar” and they reported that Erdogan saw signs that Turkey was introducing new international realities in both Syria and Libya.

This extraordinarily assertive position by Erdogan results from the sequence of events that will be described here: 

U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. allies made unequivocally clear in late August and early September of 2018 that if Syria and Russia would try to restore Syrian Government control over Syria’s Idlib Province, then the U.S. and its allies would greatly escalate their war against Syria’s Government. For example, on 3 September 2018, Trump tweeted, “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.” South Front reported, the following day, that, 

Trump’s tweet comes as Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the start of his visit to Damascus said that “terrorists must be purged” from the province and Idlib in its entirety must be returned under government control.

“Syria’s territorial integrity should be safeguarded and all tribes and groups, as one society, should start the reconstruction process, and the refugees should return to their homes,” Mr Zarif said.

Zarif met with President Assad and the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. They mostly discussed the expected September 7th summit, which will happen in Tehran. Russian, Turkish, Syrian and Iranian leaders are supposed to meet and discuss the situation in Idlib.

A statement from Assad’s office said that Iran and Syria “had similar views on the different issues” that are to be discussed.

On 10 September 2018, I wrote that “Unless Syria will simply hand its most heavily pro-jihadist province, Idlib, to adjoining Turkey, which claims to have 30,000 troops there and is planning to add 20,000 more,” there would be a war between NATO member Turkey, which has invaded there, versus Russia, which — at Syria’s request — has been assisting Syria’s Government to conquer all of Syria’s jihadists. Syria’s Army has gradually liberated and retaken most of Syria’s territory from jihadists, but had been using Idlib Province as a collection-area for the ones who were holding Syrian civilians as human shields. Syria was bussing into Idlib the tens of thousands of jihadists that surrendered. This was being done so as to minimize the numbers of civilians who would be killed when Syria’s army would retake an area, under Russian air-cover. This would allow the civilians there to escape to Syrian-Government-held territory, and the armed forces of Syria and Russia then to move in and slaughter the jihadists who remained there, so that Syria would retake that area from the U.S.-backed jihadists

Then, seven days later, I headlined “Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ as I Recommended”, and reported that,

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th in Tehran, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width.

Though the understanding that Erdogan had reached with Iran’s President Rouhani and with Russia’s President Putin was that this would be only a temporary measure in order to get the U.S. and its allies to cease threatening World War III if Syria and Russia promptly let loose and slaughtered the ‘rebels’ in Idlib (Americas’s previous main fighters to defeat and replace Syria’s Government), Erdogan soon presented clear indications that he actually wanted to seize Syrian territory and to get as much of it as he could — that his goal in Syria included expanding Turkey into Syria. His temporary policing function, as agreed-to by Russia, to isolate and not allow to escape the defeated jihadists who had become trapped there, turned out to be far more than that: it turned out to be Erdogan’s protection of those jihadists.  

On September 25th of 2018, I bannered “Turkey Now Controls Syria’s Jihadists”, and presented the historical background behind this. Then, on 14 July 2019, I headlined “Turkey Will Get a Chunk of Syria: An Advantage of Being in NATO”, and explained that because of NATO’s backing of Turkey’s seizure of Syrian territory, Turkey was already committed to the construction of Syrian branches of Turkey’s Gaziantep University and of Turkey’s Harran University, as well as of building supportive infrastructure for those facilities — absorbing portions of northern Syria into Turkey. 

So, this has been a gradual process, and now Erdogan, backed by U.S.President Trump and by NATO, will be saving the lives of the tens of thousands of jihadists (plus their families) who had been defeated elsewhere in Syria, and who thus will avoid what the U.S. and its allies had warned would be a ‘humanitarian crisis’ of mass-slaughtering those defeated jihadists (which the U.S. and its allies still call ‘Syrian rebels’ — even though most of them aren’t even Syrian).

As I noted in the 14 July 2019 article:

At that time, just prior to the Tehran conference — and this was actually the reason why the conference was held — the U.S. and its allies, and the U.N., were demanding that an all-out invasion of Idlib, which had been planned by the Governments of Syria and of Russia, must not take place, for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. There was all that ‘humanitarian’ concern (led by the United States) for the world’s biggest concentration of Nusra and Nusra-led jihadists — and for Syria’s most jihadist-supporting civilian population. So much ‘kindness’, such ‘admirable’ ‘humanitarianism’. Furthermore the U.S. Government was threatening to greatly increase its forces against Syria if that invasion by Syria and by Russia into Idlib (which is, after all, part of Syria — so, what business is it, even of the U.N., at all?) were to be carried out. The Tehran conference was meeting in order to resolve that emergency situation (mainly America’s threats of a possible war against Russia), so as to forestall this attack.

And now Erdogan again is threatening Russia with WW III if Russia continues to defend Syria’s sovereignty over Idlib — Syria’s most-jihadist province.

On February 26th, Yeni Safak bannered “Turkey will never compromise on Sochi deal for Syria, says Erdoğan”; so, Erdogan is openly threatening WW III if Russia and Syria resist Turkey’s seizure of Idlib and protection of its many thousands of jihadists.

Although the U.S. has led this apparent victory for jihadists and for international aggression, Turkey’s Erdogan has been its spearhead. Russia and Iran had not agreed to this. Certainly, Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, hadn’t agreed to anything like this outcome. Turkey, in its 10 September 2018 agreement with Russia and with Iran, had committed itself to separating-out and killing the jihadists; but, instead, Turkey has been protecting them, and now will be absorbing them, and taking Idlib Province from adjoining Syria. As recently as 22 October 2019, Erdogan had promised Putin in Sochi that “The two sides reiterate their commitment to the preservation of the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria,” and that, “They emphasize their determination to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations and to disrupt separatist agendas in the Syrian territory.” Yeni Safak’s February 26th article opened “Turkey will never compromise on the Sochi deal on embattled Idlib, Syria and it expects the deal to be implemented, said the country’s president on Wednesday.” Turkey “expects the deal to be implemented” while blatantly violating it.

Brett McGurk, a leading neoconservative in the Administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, admitted, on 27 July 2017, that “Idlib Province is the largest Al Qaeda safe-haven since 9/11, tied directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri,” and that “to send in tens of thousands of tons of weapons and looking the other way as these foreign fighters come into Syria, may not have been the best approach,” but yet the U.S. regime continues that approach, and backs Turkey’s grab of Idlib and protection of those jihadists. Previously, McGurk had been U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the anti-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition. He had supported jihadists led by al-Nusra (Syrian branch of Al Qaeda) and supported separatist Kurds in Syria, to overthrow Syria’s Government. Even the liberal (or Democratic Party, pro-Obama) neoconservative Washington Post  had not hidden the fact that “The U.S. team, headed by senior White House adviser Robert Malley and State Department envoy Brett McGurk” had informed the newspaper that “Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire” — the fact that Obama was actually protecting those jihadists (though not protecting ISIS or ‘ISIL’). Obama backed al-Qaeda there, and so does Trump. However, when Trump ran for the Presidency in 2016, he promised to reverse Obama’s obsession to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That, and similar promises he made, were antithetical to the most-basic commitments of the U.S. Establishment. They became his implacable enemies.

Finally, on 10 November 2016, right after Trump’s election, that same newspaper, the WP, bannered “Obama directs Pentagon to target al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, one of the most formidable forces fighting Assad” and, without noting that Obama had supported that “al-Qaeda affiliate” until then, but instead falsely reporting that “the administration had largely ignored until now” it, said: “While Obama, White House national security adviser Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and special presidential envoy Brett McGurk agreed with [the super-neoconservative Obama Secretary of Defense Ashton] Carter on the need to keep the focus on the Islamic State, they favored shifting resources to try to prevent al-Nusra from becoming a bigger threat down the road.” That was extreme euphemism, coming from this extremely neoconservative liberal newspaper. Actually, Obama had built his overthrow-Assad operation mainly upon al-Nusra, to train and lead the tens of thousands of foreign jihadists who had been pouring into Syria. The Washington Post was one of the most lying, deceptive, newspapers reporting anywhere in the world about international relations, very heavily slanted neoconservative — in favor of expanding the U.S. mega-corporate empire. Whereas the separatist Kurds were America’s main proxy-army fighting in Syria’s northeast, al-Nusra led America’s proxy-armies everywhere else in Syria. That 10 November 2016 WP article also asserted “But aides say Obama grew frustrated that more wasn’t being done by the Pentagon and the intelligence community to kill al-Nusra leaders given the warnings he had received from top counter­terrorism officials about the gathering threat they posed.” That’s another lie, because Secretary of State John Kerry had actually fought inside the Administration against Obama’s policy on that, and the policy came from Obama himself — and NOT from his subordinates (such as Ashton Carter), as that lying newspaper alleged. The article referred to “the expanded push against al-Nusra” — but here is the reality: by no later than December 2012 Obama had settled upon al-Nusra to lead America’s overthrow-Assad campaign inside Syria. And the reason for that has very deep historical roots — all hidden from the American public. Instead of such realism, that propaganda-organ, in its article on 10 November 2016, wrote:

A bitterly divided Obama administration had tried over the summer to cut a deal with Moscow on a joint U.S.-Russian air campaign against al-Nusra, in exchange for a Russian commitment to ground Syrian government warplanes and to allow more humanitarian supplies into besieged areas. But the negotiations broke down in acrimony, with Moscow accusing the United States of failing to separate al-Nusra from more moderate rebel groups and Washington accusing the Russians of war crimes in Aleppo.

‘Humanitarian’. How stupid does the owner of the Washington Post think that the American public is in order for it still to believe that its Government really cares about being “humanitarian” around the world — especially in countries it’s trying to conquer, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia …? Really? He thinks it’s that stupid? Or, does he think his newspaper can help to make them so misinformed?

That rabidly anti-Russian newspaper continued there:

Russia had accused the United States of sheltering al-Nusra, a charge repeated Thursday in Moscow by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The president doesn’t want this group to be what inherits the country if Assad ever does fall,” a senior U.S. official said. “This cannot be the viable Syrian opposition. It’s al-Qaeda.”

Officials said the administration’s hope is that more-moderate rebel factions will be able to gain ground as both the Islamic State and al-Nusra come under increased military pressure.

The article also featured a headline and link to their 9 November 2016 news-story, “Intelligence community is already feeling a sense of dread about Trump”. Even back then, the Democratic Party’s billionaires were pumping their agents’ allegations which would lead to Russiagate, the Mueller Report, and ultimately to Ukrainegate and Trump’s impeachment for being insufficiently supportive of President Obama’s 2014 coup and conquest of Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011. All of that was a warning to any current or future U.S. President, that to buck the collective will of America’s billionaires is to commit political suicide. It doesn’t make any difference what the President’s Party is — the dictate, from the billionaires, applies to any U.S. President. This ‘restored Cold War’ is nothing of the sort — on the U.S. side, the war secretly continued uninterrupted, even after the Soviet Union ended its communism, and its Warsaw-Pact mirror of America’s NATO military alliance.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Middle East

Attack On Jerusalem – Where Is The International System?

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Since mid-20th century the conflict has been referred to as the ‘most intractable conflict’ in the world with the ongoing Israeli occupation. For more than about 54 years the international system has failed to settle this dispute and the two countries did not reach a peace agreement. In past, the Israeli Government had restricted the Palestinians and have been involved in many illicit activities violating human rights. Palestinians remain subject to Israeli military occupation and the recent attack on Masjid Al-Aqsa is strong evidence of this fact. Tensions in Jerusalem and West Bank accelerated during the Holy month of Ramadan including evictions of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.  

The third holiest site for the Muslim community, Temple Mount also known as Masjid Al-Aqsa, located in the city of Jerusalem has been attacked by the Israel forces on the Holy night of Laylat al-Qadar and again after two days in the morning. The incident has been brought forward by the media in several ways calling it an attack conflict or clash. The Israeli police forces stormed hundreds of Palestinians during prayer time. The unrest resulted as cops entered the compound, creating an atmosphere of fear echoes of prayer together with the noise of stun grenades and fires. More than 200 Muslims offering prayer have been targeted and hit by rubber bullets and a score of attackers themselves were wounded. When the prayer zone was turned into a battlefield, the loudspeakers of the mosque called for peace and calm.

“Police must immediately stop firing stun grenades at worshippers, and the youth must calm down and be quiet!”

Violation of Human Rights pushed Palestine to demand a session of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas “held (Israel) responsible for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks taking place in the holy city.” Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law have been violated many times and now the international community is no more silent about it. Whatever is happening in East Jerusalem its occupation,  has no legitimate claims. UNSC has asked Israel to withdraw many times and has passed a number of resolutions demanding this. The United Nations has asked Israel to cancel any forced evictions in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, warning that its activities could add up to “war crimes“. Moreover, Israel has no legal claim on the city but is still carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign in East Jerusalem. The most recent example includes the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah.

Once again many statements have been given by the international community condemning the actions not finding the solution to end this. Muslim countries united joining hands in hands with their Muslim brothers and sisters. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE gave their stance against Israeli actions and made it crystal clear that such actions cannot be tolerated at any cost. Moreover, European Union (EU) and United States (US) also expressed their concerns about violence.

The atrocities of Israeli police forces have now met the definitions of apartheid and persecution as stated by the report of Human Rights Watch (HRW); “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” released in April. This includes the crime against humanity in the region of Ghaza Strip, West Bank, and Israel. This well-researched report however has very little impact on the bilateral relations between Palestine and Israel. It states that a system of systematic oppression and racial domination with a claim over land and demographics is what Israel intends to have. Israel’s foreign minister claimed it to be an ‘anti-Israel agenda’ being both false and preposterous.

Blockade of Ghaza strip and freedom movement limitations further poses a serious threat to the population during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more vulnerable. The firing by Islamic Jihad and its counter-attack, airstrikes against Ghaza and Hisbullah, demolitions, forcible transfers, violation of international law, discrimination, and use of force are all factors that aided the current situation between the two countries. Lack of access to health care units, feeling of fear and terror everywhere, insecure atmosphere all poses a serious question; “Where does the international system stand?”

With each escalation, all that comes forward is another resolution by UNSC for Israel to withdraw, statements from various states condemning the situation, and wait for another incident. While considering the Israel-Palestine conflict one might comprehend this issue as a failure of the international system to maintain peace. Many predictions and solutions have been brought forward by analysts and researchers each with some evidence supporting their stance. However thinking about a solution and solving the problem in actual seem to be two opposite poles of a magnet, but definitely not attracting one another.

For negotiations and peace agreements, the two states need to share a common vision which seems to be very unlikely to happen. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories seems to end only by establishing a relationship between the two that involves a feeling of trust and security for other states. For this, the political arrangement should be right with adequate involvement of International Organizations such as the UN. Boarder modifications and acceptance for two-state solution tend to develop the ideal conditions for this relationship.

Thus reality points in a different direction and this raises a question to the international system. Where is the international law securing the lives and freedom of people in East Jerusalem? Where is the UN Charter providing education, health, and other facilities to the people of Gaza? Where are the efforts of great powers such US, China, Russia to safeguard and secure the local citizens and maintenance of peace? Where are the rights of citizens during occupation under Geneva Convention? Where is the role of International Organizations while considering this dispute? And last but not least where the answer to all these questions is.

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Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

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