By September 7, 2018
A critical summit between the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey to find common ground on Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib descended into televised drama today, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan aired their differences before the cameras. On paper, the leaders reiterated pledges to seek a negotiated solution to Syria’s seven-year conflict, to preserve the country’s territorial unity, to eliminate al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and to assure the safe return of millions of displaced Syrians. But a regime attack on Idlib will likely move ahead despite Turkey’s appeals for more time to use carrot-and-stick diplomacy with the jihadis.
Even as the leaders assembled in Tehran, Syrian fighter jets pounded militant targets in the province, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group.
Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib in keeping with the provisions of the Astana process. The initiative was launched by Turkey, Iran and Russia last year to ease conditions for a cease-fire and eventual peace between the government and the rebels in designated “de-escalation zones.” In practice it has eased the regime’s bloody comeback in rebel-held territories such as Daraa and Ghouta, and now imminently in the last militant stronghold, Idlib, where the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, dominates. Several thousand Turkish troops manning the observation points will likely find themselves in the crosshairs of the assault and tens of thousands of Syrians would likely flee toward Turkey.
Erdogan said with some 3.5 millions Syrian refugees on its hands, Turkey could not take in any more. “An attack on Idlib will result in disaster, massacre, tragedy,” he warned. The Turkish leader even recited a verse from celebrated Iranian poet Saadi: “If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.”