From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Location of Idlib Province
Mains level : Usual turmoil in Syria
The nine-year-old war in Syria is currently raging in the northwestern province of Idlib, with rapidly escalating tensions between government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the Turkish military.
- President’s Assad’s forces are backed by Russia, who are clashing with thousands of Turkish troops south of its border with Syria.
- Turkey has closed the border and is trying to seal itself from waves of displaced refugees as Assad presses forth with a brutal campaign to take back Idlib.
Why is Idlib important?
- Assad has been pushing to recapture Idlib, which, along with parts of neighbouring Hama, Latakia and Aleppo, are the last remaining strongholds of the rebel opposition and other groups that have been attempting to overthrow Assad since 2011.
- At one point, the opposition held large parts of Syria under its control, but that changed after Assad, with Russian military support, slowly regained control over most of the country.
- In 2015, Idlib province was overtaken by opposition forces.
- Now, Syrian government forces are attempting to capture the strategic M4 and M5 national highways that connect Idlib, Aleppo and Damascus, the capital of the country.
- Idlib skirts the two national highways and lies between Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the south.
- It’s proximity to the Turkish border makes Idlib strategically important to the Syrian government.
Who controls Idlib now?
- Since the province fell to opposition forces, there is no one group that controls Idlib, but rather, several separate factions.
- International watchdogs say that the dominant faction in Idlib is the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a UN-designated terrorist organization set up in 2017, with links to al-Qaeda.
- Also operating in Idlib is the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, an armed opposition group. Included in the mix are the remnants of the Islamic State.
- Watch groups say that other factions in Idlib strongly oppose the presence of IS fighters in the province.
Why is Idlib important for Turkey?
- Idlib’s proximity to the Turkish border makes it not only important for the Syrian government, but also a cause of concern for Turkey.
- Since the war started in Syria, thousands of displaced Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey over the years.
- According to the latest known figures, Turkey presently hosts some 3.6 million refugees and is feeling the socio-economic and political strain of their presence in the country.
- More conflict in Idlib would only serve to displace more people, pushing them towards the Turkish border.
- Turkey has been witnessing a surge in hostility among its citizens towards refugees and a fresh wave of refugees will only exacerbate the situation.