The last bastion of serious resistance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib province has been under assault by combined Russian, Syrian, and Hezbollah forces for months. Relief agencies estimate that 600,000 Syrians are fleeing the intensifying fighting, as Turkey is now reinforcing its outposts in the region trying to stem the tide.
It’s not working.
Turkish artillery fire supporting rebel defensive positions in the town of Saraqeb briefly prevented its takeover, but the regime’s advance toward strategic territory at the intersection of crucial thoroughfares linking western Syria with the rest of the country ultimately broke through and succeeded in capturing the town.
It would be disingenuous to call the latest flare-up an escalation because half a million people have already fled their homes toward the Turkish border in the last two months of regime and Russian bombardment. Since last April, there have been more than 70 separate attacks on medical facilities. Entire towns have been abandoned. Hundreds of people have been killed.
Hundreds of bombing raids by the Russian and Syrian air forces — more than 70 on medical facilities alone — have targeted civilian populations as Assad sees his only hope for victory in annihilating the enemy and laying waste to an entire province.
His brutal calculus: If there aren’t any people, there isn’t any resistance.
#Idlib: Some brave locals have filmed a series of harrowing images for @SkyNews over the past few days which bring home just how awful the situation is for hundreds of thousands as they flee homes in #Syria’s north-west. Much of what they filmed was too awful to broadcast. pic.twitter.com/DYMAMMdbml
— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) February 8, 2020
Syrian filmmaker Waad al Kateab, whose documentary “For Sama” is nominated for an academy award, writes painfully in the New York Times about the situation.
In the past few weeks, the attacks on the people trapped in Idlib have severely intensified. The White Helmets, the civil defense group, documented more than 6,600 attacks that killed 208 civilians in January.
I am a Syrian filmmaker traveling in the United States for work. I watch the news from Syria on my phone. An image appears repeatedly: a straight road stretching to the horizon, packed with cars and trucks filled with families fleeing from the city of Ma’arat al-Nu’man in southern Idlib. Ma’arat al-Nu’man is the latest place to be turned into a ghost town by Russian and regime bombs, pushing about 110,000 people from there.
This sort of thing hasn’t been seen since World War II. The world didn’t handle it well then, and it’s not doing a good job now.
In the past week I have met officials from the House of Representatives and the Senate. In each meeting, I have just minutes to explain what is happening in Idlib. I tell them everything, and it feels like nothing. I don’t believe it will change anything. The Syrian people have been abandoned. Some politicians and U.N. officials tell me they hope for an end to the violence. Others tell me they can do nothing.
We are left to face death alone.
No one is willing to help because helping means going to war. And no one is going to send their young men and women out to die for Syria.
Negotiations won’t work. In order for talks to succeed, there must be something offered to Assad that he can’t get by blowing up Idlib. He’s already an international pariah, so threats of sanctions would be laughed at. And Putin has correctly calculated no western nation will bloody its hands helping the rebels.
The only way to make Putin and Assad stop the slaughter is to threaten them with worse. Even then, the threat has to be believable. There’s only one nation on the planet who could threaten Assad and Putin. And there’s no chance the U.S. will intervene.