Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

The Syrians trapped in a fate redolent of Gaza

Innocent people are being forced into enclaves all too familiar to Palestinians

Syrian government forces gather near Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province. AFP
Syrian government forces gather near Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province. AFP

From Idlib to Afrin and the territories east of the Euphrates, the northern borderlands of Syria are now full of desperate enclaves, where the Turkish and Syrian regimes have driven those they no longer want or care about. With regional players vying for power over the territories, those paying the price are ordinary Syrians. Much like Palestinians in Gaza, Syrians to the north have found themselves besieged on all sides and are in dire need of help.

There are various reasons for this crisis on the border with Turkey. For years, Turkey has been creating pockets that it controls by backing a mix of moderate and militant rebel groups, among them the National Army (formerly known as the Free Syrian Army). From Al Bab and Afrin to the yet-to-be-created buffer zone, Ankara has one plan in mind: to dominate Syrian territory on its border so it can push out Kurdish militants and relocate Syrian refugees.

In Aleppo, the Turkish armed forces and the National Army have occupied parts of the province since August 2016. After US-Turkish talks of a safe zone in this area failed, Turkey launched an operation to weed out Kurdish forces in the areas, as it considers the YPG - which dominates the Syrian Democratic Forces - to be aligned with the militant PKK Kurdish seperatist movement, designated a terrorist organisation in Turkey.

Today the area resembles a proto-state, cut off from the rest of Syria and under indirect Turkish dominance via the National Army. There are fears that the imminent creation of a buffer zone at the north-western border in Syria will lead to a similar scenario, only this time, in addition to territorial dominance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also aims to repopulate the sliver of land with Syrians who had sought refuge in his own country, in a cruel and populist bid to oust some of the 3.5 million refugees residing in Turkey.

As for Idlib, conflict in Syria’s last rebel-held stronghold has given rise to a full-blown humanitarian disaster. Idlib’s three million residents are largely evacuees from other parts of the country, forced to flee as rebel-held cities fell to the regime and now trapped. Since December last year, more than 400 Syrians have been shot dead by Turkish border patrol as they attempted to flee the ongoing violence in their country. Unable to escape their war-torn country or take refuge in other parts of Syria, they have faced relentless bombardment from the regime since April. The assault has claimed nearly 800 lives and displaced close to half a million people.

Syrians cannot be made to choose between the iron grip of the regime and foreign dominance of their land. They deserve to be given a third choice – the chance of living their lives in peace

Updated: August 21, 2019 06:44 PM

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