Mot avgjørende slag i Syria

i Midt-Østen av

Idlib-provinesen i det nordøstlige Syria er den siste provinsen som kontrolleres av opprørsstyrkene mot Assadregimet hvis vi ser bort fra området som kurderne kontrollerer i nordvest. Her bor ca tre millioner mennesker hvorav rundt regnet halvparten er internt fordrevne flyktninger fra andre provinser som Assad har gjenerobret. Idlib er også tilholdsstedet for de siste velorganiserte opprørsstyrkene hvorav ganske mange jihadister som er forberedt på å kjempe til siste slutt.

Det er tydelig av den syriske hæren forbereder seg på et slag for å gjenerobre provinsen. Hva som videre vil skje, er imidlertid ikke bare et spørsmål om hva Assad beslutter. Både Russland og Tyrkia er tungt involvert militært og har sine egne målsettinger som på ingen måte automatisk overlapper Assads. Tyrkia har utrustet og trent mange av opprørssoldatene og har selv tropper i Idlib. Russland kan antas å bruke Idlib som pressmiddel overfor EU for å få EU til å yte større bidrag til gjenoppbyggingen av Syria etter krigen. Flyktningstrømmen fra Idlib etter et avgjørende slag kan bli på mange hundre tusen mennesker som EU garantert ikke vil ønske kommer til Europa.

Artikkelen nedenfor er sakset fra Der Spiegel. Under artikkelen har vi samlet bl.a. lenke til The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights som er en sentral kilde til det som skjer på bakken i Syria. Lenken til al-Jazeera diskuterer fire scenarioer for den videre utviklingen.

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Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has his eyes on recapturing Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. But Russia may have other uses for the province. And Turkey and Iran have a say as well.

An Analysis by  and 

Smoke rises from a village near Idlib following an airstrike.

AP

Smoke rises from a village near Idlib following an airstrike.

In recent years, Bashar Assad has repeatedly given people the choice when his troops were about to recapture rebel areas in Syria: They could either choose deportation to Idlib or death. When the last hospital was bombed to rubble and the last supplies had run out after several years of siege, the survivors would agree to be taken to Idlib in green buses: sometimes only fighters and those active in the opposition, as in Eastern Ghouta, or sometimes everyone, as in the Damascus suburb of Darayya and in the eastern half of Aleppo.

The province of Idlib in the northwest of the country, surrounding the city of the same name, has now become the last retreat for the now largely Islamist rebels still fighting against Assad — and many civilians. The United Nations estimates that 2.9 million people now live in the province, including 1.4 million who have fled the Assad regime from other parts of the country.

It has long been the regime’s plan to collect the opposition in Idlib. And it has also long been clear that, at some point, it would be this province’s turn — and that there would be no more green buses heading somewhere else. Instead the bombs would fall until it was completely reconquered. Cruel, bloody and without any regard for civilians. That is Assad’s plan for Idlib.

But on the eve of what would likely be the final major offensive in this seven-year civil war, it remains to be seen if Assad’s plan will come to fruition. The assault is expected to start in the next several days. Ultimately, though, the decision on Idlib’s fate will not be made in Damascus, but in Moscow. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has other interests than just helping his protégé Assad complete his military conquest. As long as Putin has the ability to threaten that millions could flee from Idlib to Turkey and then on to the European Union, he can exert pressure on the Europeans to pay for Syria’s reconstruction. And that is exactly what he would like to see happen.

As such, the Kremlin might even be willing to accept a partitioning of Idlib. Under that scenario, Turkey would control part of the province and add it to the protectorate it has already established north of Aleppo. Some rebels could also find refuge there. In discreet negotiations in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana, Russia, Iran and Turkey have discussed such a partition several times. Such an agreement would involve Assad recapturing the western part of the province — including in particular the small, strategically important town of Jisr al-Shughur. The village is located on the plain at the base of Ansarieh Mountain, near the main area settled by the Alawi ethnic minority to which the Assads belong.

Three Party Negotiations

Slik ser de fleste storbyene i Syria ut etter sju års krig

The Russians would be given assurances from the Turks that the remaining rebels in Idlib would no longer attack their nearby Hmeimim Air Base. An agreement is also being sought on the important trade route leading from Gaziantep, in Turkey, via Aleppo to the south. The Turks would secure the northern part, the Russians the middle part and Assad’s troops the southern stretch. Each of the three parties has an interest in the cooperation of the other two, because each is capable of blocking the others.

It isn’t clear if Russia really intends to implement the plan. Even before the recapturing of the southern province of Daraa, most had assumed the Kremlin would adhere to the cease-fire agreement it had negotiated with the United States out of regard for Israel. Instead, Russian jets provided air support for Assad’s troops.

The Turkish army, meanwhile, has literally dug itself in in Idlib in recent months. The military has built a chain of 12 bases, each secured with trenches, sand barriers and concrete walls, each one manned with around 150 soldiers along with army and intelligence officers. Syrians are only involved in securing the perimeter. «It doesn’t look like they will be leaving voluntarily any time soon,» says a Syrian translator, who has been watching as supply trucks arrive every few days.

The decision about the military presence will also be made in Moscow rather than in Ankara. The Kremlin is demanding that Turkey eliminate the terrorist organization HTS in Idlib, which emerged out of the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front. Currently, there is little to indicate that Turkey is in a position to honor its part of the pledge.

Just under 70,000 fighters are believed to be in Idlib, more than half belonging to the National Front for the Liberation of Syria (NFL), which was founded in May. The troops have been trained and equipped by Turkey, with Qatar providing the financing. But HTS is still the second strongest force in the province, with around 10,000 fighters. And several rebel commanders, smugglers and journalists maintain that the Islamist group maintains close contacts with the Turkish intelligence service

They claim that Turkish «emirs» within HTS serve as the middlemen to intelligence officers. Part of the rebels supplies in Idlib are provided by IHH, a charity organization with ties to Turkish President Erdogan. Many observers in Idlib suspect that Turkey wants to maintain HTS as a secret reserve force for used against the Kurds in northern Syria — despite having officially declared the group as its enemy.

Because after the battle for Idlib, the next and perhaps last question in this conflict will be whether the Kurds in the northeast remain autonomous, whether Turkey will launch an offensive against them or whether they too will ultimately end up back under the Assad regime’s rule.


Lenker:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

Al-Jazeera: What may unfold in Syria´s Idlib province

Time: Idlib Could Be the Last Battlefield

Carnegie: Russia, Turkey, and the Fate of Idlib

Int. Crisis Group: Saving Idlib from Destruction