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Syrian Army Advances in Idlib, Thousands Flee to Turkey

Syrian Army tanks advance during Operation Damascus Steel in March 2018
Syrian Army tanks advance during Operation Damascus Steel in March 2018. (Photo: Zlatica Hoke, VOA)

As Syrian forces push to eradicate the last of the opposition in Idlib, residents flee to a wary Turkey.

Army forces of the Syrian Arab Republic expanded on Sunday their theater of military operations in the northwestern province of Idlib forcing many thousands of residents to flee.

According to Syria Now Arabic-language news website, the Syrian Army has carried out a large-scale attack against elements of the Al-Nusra Front and other armed opposition groups in the area. The website reported that the Syrian army came very close to some flash-points in the southeastern countryside area of Idlib province, wrestling control over a number of outskirt villages.

Army sources emphasized to Syria Now the army’s determination to drive out all the opposition fighters from all areas of Idlib.

Deputy-Chief of Staff of the Syrian Army, Salim Harba, was quoted by the Syria Now website as saying, “Our national decision to purify Idlib is irreversible. And you might have observed that our troops have already swept many areas, in the province.”

Idlib itself is home to 3 million Syrians and is said to be the last stronghold of the insurgents who have opposed Syrian President Bashar Assad since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Influx of Refugees and Turkey

Meanwhile, as the Syrian Army advanced across parts of Idlib, thousands of Syrian residents reportedly fled to nearby Turkey. Those fleeing the fighting in Idlib add to an approximately 3.7 million already-existing Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Addressing a national awards ceremony in Istanbul on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed concern over the continued influx of Syrian refugees into his country.

“If the violence towards the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more. In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own,” the BBC quoted Erdogan as saying.

Expressing frustration with Europe’s failure to help Turkey handle the influx of Syrian refugees, Erdogan had earlier warned that his government might consider allowing large numbers of refugees to cross into Europe through the Turkish gate.

In October of this year, Turkey offered to help repatriate refugees in a planned “safe zone'” in northeastern Syria, areas that were retaken from Kurdish-led opposition fighters.

“We call on European countries to use their energy to stop the massacre in Idlib, rather than trying to corner Turkey for the legitimate steps it took in Syria,” President Erdogan further noted on Sunday.

Turkish troops carried out in October a large-scale military offensive on northeastern Syria as part of Turkey’s long-time attempt to curb Kurdish forces in the area who have sought independence from Turkey for decades now.

Though the US initially supported Erdogan’s “safe zone” plan, many other international players gave it little backing.

Syria’s Civil War

Since 2011 the Arab Republic of Syria, home to nearly 19 million residents, has endured a civil war sparked by mass protests demanding social and economic reforms.

Since then, hundreds of thousands have been killed and injured, while millions more have been displaced. In recent years, Russia has become a key ally for the Syrian government, intervening in the war and helping Syria defeat the armed opposition groups.

Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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