Dec 31, 2019

Renewed regime bombing campaign worsens crisis in northwest Syria

A Syrian refugee camp in Sarmada, near the Turkish border. Photo: Aref Tammawi/AFP via Getty Images

As 2019 comes to a close, a military offensive launched by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib has killed at least 100 civilians and displaced more than 235,000, creating a new nightmare in a region already racked by humanitarian catastrophe.

The big picture: The recent strikes are part of a wider government campaign to reassert authority over Idlib, Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold. Nearly 3 million civilians are trapped in the northwestern province, boxed in by Turkey's closed border.

Where it stands: As the bombing campaign targets schools and hospitals, civilians have sought shelter in overcrowded, informal settlements that lack basic necessities. Some families with young children are living in the open air, despite heavy rains and cold winter weather.

Between the lines: The Assad regime’s immediate objective appears to be to seize the town of Maaret al-Numan and thereby reopen the strategic highway linking the capital of Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo.

  • Last Thursday President Trump warned the regime and its international benefactors, Russia and Iran, to end the carnage, but stopped short of outlining consequences if they fail to do so.

What to watch: The UN Security Council resolution authorizing cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to areas of Syria outside regime control is set to expire on January 10, yet two weeks ago China and Russia vetoed its renewal. Ending the flow of aid would cut a critical lifeline.

The bottom line: The situation in Idlib will continue to deteriorate as the civilian population brace for the end of the UN assistance while trapped between the brutal regime offensive and Turkey’s closed border. At this rate, 2020 is shaping up to be the worst humanitarian chapter of the Syrian conflict.

Hardin Lang is vice president for programs and policy at Refugees International.

Go deeper

Turkey's parliament votes to send troops to Libya

Photo: Turkish Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Turkey's parliament has voted to deploy troops to Libya in support of the UN-recognized government, deepening its role in a proxy war that's also pulled in Russia and other regional powers, Bloomberg reports.

The state of play: Turkey is supporting efforts by Libya's UN-recognized government to block an offensive on the capital, Tripoli, by rebel commander Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jan 2, 2020

Erdoğan's gamble in Libya could hinge on Putin's reaction

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Photo: Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Turkey’s parliament on Thursday authorized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to deploy troops to Libya, adding a new dimension to a proxy war that features foreign drones and Russian mercenaries.

The state of play: Libya has been plagued by war and instability since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Ghaddafi in 2011.

Go deeperArrowJan 3, 2020

Putin tells Assad he should invite Trump to Damascus

Putin and Assad hold a meeting in Damascus, Jan. 7. Photo: Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

During his surprise visit to Syria last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, to invite President Trump to Damascus, according to a video of a short conversation between the two leaders aired Sunday on Russia-1 television channel.

What's happening: The video shows the leaders speaking to each other during a visit to the Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Damascus. Assad tells Putin about the apostle Paul who became a Christian at the gate of Damascus and adds jokingly: "If Trump arrives along this road, everything will become normal with him too."

Go deeperArrowJan 12, 2020