The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to email@example.com.
Dream of Crossing Over
23 February 2020
Military escalation by government forces and their Russian ally in the governorate of Idlib has forced around nine hundred thousand people to displace since December. Many of them headed toward areas near the Turkish border, considering that it is safer there.
Near the town of Kafr Luceen, dozens of displaced families live in humble rooms built in a slum camp just a few meters away from the cement wall separating Syrian and Turkish territories. Some of them have plastic water tanks or solar panels on the roofs. The rooms, which were built over time and encompass tents occupied by newly displaced people, have turned into a small village. Children play near the wall attempting to climb it and one of them is wearing a military uniform with a Turkish flag on it.
Turkish border patrols often shoot at whomever tries to mount the wall in order to stop an influx of refugees into the country, killing dozens of people since Turkey sealed off its border with Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some people have paid large sums of money to smugglers to help them cross the border.
Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, has tightly closed its border in fear of a new refugee influx due to the escalation in northwest Syria. In recent weeks, it has sent reinforcement to Idlib to support militant factions. It has also deployed observation posts in the area under a truce agreement with Russia – the most prominent supporter of Damascus.
Quadruple Meeting on Idlib
22 February 2020
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday announced a joint summit with the leaders of Russia, France, and Germany on 5 March to discuss the situation in Idlib governorate, the last opposition stronghold in northwest Syria.
Erdogan did not specify the location of the summit, but he told reporters after Friday prayers that Macron and Merkel suggested that it be held in Istanbul, but Putin has not yet decided.
The offensive by Syrian government forces in the governorate of Idlib has led to the displacement of around one million people.
The office of German Chancellor said that Macron and Merkel on Friday expressed “their willingness to meet president Putin and Turkish President Erdogan in an effort to find a political solution to the crisis.”
Diplomats said that Russia prevented the UN Security Council on Wednesday from issuing a statement calling for the cessation of hostilities and respect of international humanitarian law in northwest Syria.
Turkey threatened to launch an “imminent” attack in Idlib after its forces were bombed by Syrian government forces and gave Damascus until the end of February to redeploy its troops.
A Turkish soldier was killed on Saturday by Syrian government bombardment in Idlib governorate, according to the Turkish defense ministry. The Turkish army responded to the “odious attack” by destroying twenty-one targets for the Syrian government, the ministry added.
This raises the death toll of Turkish soldiers to seventeen in the confrontations that began early February.
Damascus and Washington
22 February 2020
Damascus condemned US statements criticizing the reopening of Aleppo international airport, which resumed reception of civil planes after years of closure.
The US Secretary of State Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the resumption of flights from Damascus to Aleppo were “shameless” on part of President Bashar al-Assad “as his barrel bombs fall day and night on the people of Idlib.”
These statements “show that the US administration has lost its balance. The real shamelessness is in the policies of this administration in assaulting others and interfering in their affairs,” an official source in the Syrian foreign ministry was quoted by the official SANA news agency on Saturday.
Opening Damascus-Aleppo Road
22 February 2020
The Syrian transport ministry announced the opening of the major highway between Damascus and Aleppo for traffic on Saturday after government forces regained control of this vital artery in an offensive supported by Russia.
The recapturing of the M5 road from opposition fighters represents a major gain for president Bashar al-Assad because it signifies that the government has retaken control of the road between the two largest cities in Syria for the first time since the conflict broke out nine years ago.
With Russian support, government forces have captured new land in areas in northwest Syria, the last major stronghold for opposition fighters, since December.
Removing opposition fighters from this highway was part of an agreement reached between Russia and Turkey in 2018 that called for a buffer zone between the fighting parties in Idlib, however, the intensity of the battles has not settled down.
20 February 2020
Cessation of hostilities in the Syrian governorate of Idlib, which is under a widespread offensive by the government and Russia, has sparked intense diplomatic activity on Friday that is expected to culminate in a phone call by the Turkish and Russian presidents, who are considered major players in the conflict.
Before this call, which Ankara said would take place at 15:00 GMT, Erdogan discussed the situation in Idlib with the French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He called on them to “take tangible steps to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” according to the Turkish presidency.
Missiles for Idlib
20 February 2020
Turkey asked the United states to deploy two patriot missile defense batteries on its southern border to enable it to confront any future attacks by Syrian forces with support from Russian air forces, said a high-level Turkish official in Ankara.
Turkey could use F-16 fighter jets to strike units allied to president Assad in Idlib if the Patriot system is not deployed in the Hatay province on the Turkish border, Bloomberg news agency cited the official as saying.
The official who asked not to be named said that Ankara has not yet received a response from the United States to this request which was conveyed to the US administration by the US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey.
The US embassy in Ankara refused to comment of the Turkish official’s comments.
170 Thousand in the Open Air
20 February 2020
Around one hundred and seventy thousand people out of nine hundred thousand displace people live in the open air after an offensive by government forces in northwest Syria compelled them to leave their homes, said the United Nations on Thursday.
Since December, Idlib and surrounding areas, controlled by Tahrir al-Sham (previously Nusra) and other opposition factions, have come under a widespread attack by Damascus, which has seen these forces advance in vast areas.
The offensive has caused the biggest influx of displacement since the onset of the conflict in 2011. International organizations characterize Idlib governorate as a “huge camp” because it already hosts three million people, half of whom are displaced people who fled from other governorates over the years.
First Airplane in Aleppo
19 February 2020
A civil airplane arrived on Wednesday at Aleppo international airport coming from Damascus, resuming commercial flights to Aleppo in the north after eight years of isolation.
Damascus resumed commercial flights in Aleppo international airport days after the Syrian army took control of the vicinity and ousted opposition factions in order to provide security.
A Syrian Airlines 320 Airbus carried officials including the Minister of Transport Ali Hammoud and Minister of Tourism Mohammed Martini, in addition to a team of journalists who were invited by the ministry of information.