Feb 6, 2020 - World

Syria's Idlib offensive forces civilians to flee, pits Turkey against Russia

Fleeing Idlib. Photo: Rami Al Sayed/AFP via Getty Images

Bashar al-Assad’s Russia-backed offensive on Syria's northwestern enclave of Idlib — home to the last rebel-held areas — has forced some 150,000 civilians to flee over the past two weeks and led to direct clashes with Turkey.

Why it matters: David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, tells Axios that the future of Idlib is being decided by an “arm wrestle between the Russians and the Turks” with “no U.S. engagement” and massive humanitarian consequences.

  • Turkey, which supported the rebels against Assad, announced earlier this week that eight of its forces had been killed by shelling in Idlib. It claimed to have "neutralized" 76 Syrian troops in response.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reserved some of his ire for Assad's patron, Russia. Turkey and Russia have inched closer together in recent years but stand on opposite sides in Syria as well as Libya.
  • Erdoğan fears yet another mass exodus of refugees to Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrians.

What to watch: In northeast Syria, meanwhile, there have been a series of “potentially dangerous standoffs” between Russian contractors and U.S. troops, per WSJ. U.S. envoy James Jeffrey says Russia is attempting to “challenge our presence in the northeast.”

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