On Monday September 17th, Turkey and Russia agreed to impose and enforce a demilitarized zone in Idlib, a rebel held area in Syria. This will supposedly be put into force by October 15th 2018. Both presidents, Putin and Erdogan agreed that this was the best situation in which full-fledged military conflict could be avoided. As reported by CNN, Erdogan said that this 15-20 kilometer demilitarized zone will prevent a “humanitarian crisis” in Idlib.
Idlib is a small province North-east of Syria that borders Turkey. Turkey also controls a large portion of Idlib. This province is a rebel controlled territory, with no one group dominating the control of the area. While there isn’t a rebel group that is dominating, the presence of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is quite strong. The HTS is a jihad group that has ties to al-Qaeda. The Assad regime has been trying to overtake Idlib for the past seven years in the Syrian war. The Russian backed Syrian army has targeted Idlib for a while, and control over that province would wipe out a substantial population. According to BBC, Idlib is home to a huge civilian population of 2.9 million, one third of which are solely children. Idlib’s geographical location is places it in a state of much importance as it contains major highways that connect Aleppo to Damascus and the coastal beach city of Latakia.
This buffer zone is vital for Turkey to make sure that conflict does not spill over national borders. While Turkish controlled zones of Idlib wont be the target of this current attack, these zones will be “next in line”. Turkey will feel the effects of a full-fledged military attack by having to host displaced refugees.
While a diplomatic step towards any conflict is always welcomed, this particular buffer zone doesn’t seem to have goals of both Turkey and Syria in place. Although postponing conflict gives Turkey time, Syrian forces will undoubtedly invade Idlib in time soon to come. However, as for Syria and Russia, this postponement allows rebel territories to grow in size. While Russian backed Syrian forces say that they simply want to rid Idlib of terrorism and terrorist groups, it’s hard to do that when the province is so densely populated with civilians. Unquestionably, collateral damage is unavoidable. In a war as complicated as the one in Syria, it’s hard to lose sight of what is inherently “good” or “bad”. Regardless of the intent of military actions, the lives are at stake on both sides.
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