Turkey’s last-minute effort to head off a looming offensive from the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments in Idlib Province has fallen short, leaving open only the question of when and how the offensive will occur. Given Syrian President Assad’s pledge to recapture every inch of Syrian territory, neither Western pleas for restraint nor for a potential campaign targeting only extremist fighters is likely to avert the assault.
Why it matters: Idlib is the last remaining de-escalation zone from 2017’s Russian-led Astana peace process, and is home to more 3 million civilians. It is also home to thousands of the most extreme, battle-hardened al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters, who now have nowhere in Syria left to go. Difficult terrain and the regime’s history of using chemical weapons in the region only compound the challenges. The U.N. warns that a major military clash could force nearly a million Syrians to flee north toward the Turkish border; as many as 30,000 have already been reported displaced from Idlib in recent days.