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Bloodbath in Syria’s Idlib can still be avoided — ICG

By AFP - Sep 04,2018 - Last updated at Sep 04,2018

BEIRUT — An all-out Syrian offensive against the rebel bastion of Idlib and its catastrophic consequences can still be averted, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Monday, calling for a return to negotiations.

The Brussels-based think tank argued that Russia, whose air support would be crucial for the offensive to succeed, should understand that a bloodbath in Idlib would jeopardise its own political goals.

“By backing an all-out offensive, Russia risks undermining its long-term political objectives in Syria,” ICG wrote in a nine-page briefing titled “Saving Idlib from destruction”.

Syrian forces are poised to launch an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major region in Syria still controlled by rebels and extremists.

All the while seeking to pressure Turkey into reining in extremists in Idlib, Damascus’s main sponsor Russia has been sounding the war drums in recent days.

Idlib is a cul-de-sac for many rebels and civilians transferred there after previous regime assaults.

The United Nations and aid groups have warned that a full assault on Idlib could spark a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not yet seen in Syria’s seven-year-old conflict.

ICG argued that Moscow would be shooting itself in the foot by backing such a scenario.

“Russia seeks to ensure not just the regime’s military victory in Syria but its full political restoration through international relegitimation at war’s end,” it said.

The think tank stressed that Russia needed Turkey, a co-sponsor of Syria peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana that yielded previous deals meant to reduce violence and pave the way for reconciliation.

“Likewise, a regime victory in Idlib that kills many civilians and displaces hundreds of thousands would shock the same European countries Russia is now courting to reopen diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime and invest in reconstruction,” ICG wrote.

It said the three Astana guarantors should urgently return to the negotiating table and thrash out a plan that would satisfy some of Moscow’s key demands.

ICG cited “intensified Turkish efforts to rid the area of militants, an end to drone attacks on Russia’s [Hmeimim] air base and regime control over Idlib’s key highways”.

“There is an alternative to a military offensive,” it said.

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