Idlib and its surrounding countryside is the last major rebel company in Syria, and the struggle for the province is likely to be the last major battle in the more than seven-year war. President Bashar al-Assad has promised to return the whole country, and although small pockets of Islamic state militants can still mount a rebellion, Assad's forces can demand an almost complete victory against the armed opposition if they capture Idlib. 19659002] Control of Idlib Province, located on the border with Turkey, provides access to the M5 highway, an important economic thoroughfare that extends all the way from the Turkish border through the largest Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus and links to Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
For international powers, primarily Russia and Turkey, Idlib is one of the last opportunities to deepen or preserve its influence in Syria when the country moves into a post-war phase.
What are the potential consequences for civilians in Idlib?
UN officials warn of an offensive in Idlib can lead to the worst humanitarian disaster in the 21
Idlib is home to an estimated three million people, almost half of them have already been moved from elsewhere in the country. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people still live in tents. U.N. estimates that one million children live in the area and that as many as 800,000 civilians can be displaced as a result of the fighting. Some 30,000 have already fled from the government's artillery attacks and Russian airstrikes. Turkey, home to more than three million refugees, said that it would not open the border to those who fly Idlib.
How likely is a directly armed conflict between Russia and Turkey?
Turkey has 12 observations in Idlib and has troops north of the province while the Russian Air Force supports Syrian government forces.
But an armed confrontation between the two militants seems unlikely at this stage. Since 2015, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has disappeared from his European and American Allies and developed closer ties with his Iranian and Russian counterparts. For Russia, the maintenance of good relations with Ankara helps drive a key in the NATO Alliance. Direct conflict would be expensive for both sides and endanger a growing alliance.
If the regime takes Idlib, is it the end of the inner resistance to Assad?
Although pockets in Syria remain beyond government control, losing Idlib would be a devastating blow to the opposition. Idlib is the last bastion of the public uprising, which led to the Syrian conflict in 2011. When the war raged across the country, the opposition in Idlib tried to create a more free state, establish municipalities, media, civilian organizations and schools. They held local elections in the face of hard opposition from the radical Islamists, now called terrorists of the West and Assad regime alike. If the opposition in Idlib is broken, it's a promising, albeit limited, democratic experiment for Syria. The paralyzed Syrian opposition is generally considered to be too weak to provide an alternative to the Assad regime.
What can the United States or the United Nations do?
The United States can do a little to prevent the offensive and has signaled that its priority in Syria is against the Islamic state in the eastern part of the country and limits Iranian influence, not interfering with Idlib. Nevertheless, the United States and its allies have warned that they will target Syrian government forces if they use chemical weapons, because international experts have accused them of doing several times during the war. These strikes would only target the government's ability to use chemical weapons, not its ability to carry out a conventional war.
On Friday, the UN will live in Geneva on the drafting of a new Syrian constitution, but the diplomatic track has so far failed to have any impact and is not present by the Syrian government or its foreign backers. U.N.'s impact is also limited by Russia's veto at the Security Council. Although U.N's Syria Envoy hopes to merge the UN process with the so-called Astana talks between Turkey, Russia and Iran, U.N.'s influence on events in Syria is limited.