Syria: endgame or escalation?
Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks like it is set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is the clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. Turkey's military shot down two regime warplanes over northwest Idlib on March 1, hours after Assadist forces brought down a Turkish drone over the region. The Damascus regime said the pilots parachuted to safety. At least 34 Turkish troops were killed in air-strikes in Idlib n the previous days. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
And amid an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, with over half a million displaced and pouring into camps along the Turkish border, the sense of desperation is rapidly deepening. Regime forces this week recaptured Kafranbel, an important symbolic victory, as the town was among the first to rebel against Assad and was long a symbol of the revolution. (AFP) Regime and Russian aerial bombardment continues to take a horrific toll. On Feb. 26, at least 20 civilians were killed in a single day, as regime warplanes struck eight school facilities in Idlib city and nearby towns. Idlib Central Hospital was also hit by air-strikes, as the regime continues its strategy of targeting medical facilities. (The Guardian, BBC News)
Warplanes also targeted several village in the Idlib countryside over the past days, killing many civilians, including several children. (Orient News)
Turkey, having sealed the border to the thousands of displaced amassing on the Syrian side, now says it will open its borders and let the desperate Syrians pass through its territory to Europe, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he will no longer abide by his deal with the European Union to contain the refugees. The first 18,000 refugees and migrants crossed into Greek territory and clashed with border guards on March 1. (BBC News) Erdogan is clearly exploiting the displaced to win international support for his territorial ambitions in northern Syria.
Amid all this horror, on Feb. 25 hundreds of displaced Syrians held a demonstration at the border town of Ben al-Salam, pledging to keep alive the spirit of the Syrian revolution to the bitterest end. Proclaimed civil resistance activist Maysaa Mahmoud: "Today, we are gathered here to tell the whole world that, even if there is just one inch of Syrian land left, we will continue to say, down with Bashar al-Assad, down with the Russian criminality, down with the Iranian criminality." (France24)