250,000 Syrians may flee to Turkey from Idlib: Turkish intelligence

250,000 Syrians may flee to Turkey from Idlib: Turkish intelligence

Nuray Babacan - ANKARA

This file photo shows civilians at Abu Duhur border crossing in Idlib. George OURFALIAN / AFP

At least 250,000 Syrians may flee to Turkey from Idlib if Damascus launches a military operation into its northwestern province, Turkish government sources said, citing new intelligence reports.

According to one report, Ankara predicts that Syrian President Bashar Assad would focus on the opposition groups in Idlib after he concluded the ongoing negotiations with the Syrian Kurdish groups in coordination with the United States, Russia and Iran.

Turkish intelligence warned that more than 250,000 Syrians could attempt to enter Turkey if the Syrian army moves into Idlib, advising the government to keep them in safe zones inside Syria near the Turkish border.

One of the reports also advised the government to meticulously check the backgrounds of all Syrian refugees who would enter Turkey to make sure that they have no connection with terrorist groups in Idlib.

It’s the first Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, since Syrian troops recaptured suburbs of Damascus earlier this year and areas in southern Syria previously held by rebels.

Infighting between rival groups

With crucial military support from allies Russia and Iran, Assad’s troops have recaptured most rebel strongholds across the country. The northern province of Idlib is the last major remaining opposition bastion.

Even as the regime says it aims to retake the northwestern province on Turkey’s border, its inhabitants are falling victim to infighting between the rival groups controlling most of it, according to an Agence France-Presse story published on Aug. 21.

Since April, 270 people -- including 55 civilians -- have been killed in assassinations of rebels and commanders from all sides in Idlib, and adjacent parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Activists and analysts blame most of the violence on two rival umbrella groups, also attributing some to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and alleged regime collaborators.   

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, which is led by jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, controls more than 60 percent of Idlib.

Part of the rest is held by the National Liberation Front, a rival umbrella group backed by Turkey

Turkey calls on Syrian regime to end Idlib operation

The regime holds the southeastern tip of the province that is home to some 2.5 million people -- more than half displaced by Syria’s seven-year war or bussed into Idlib under surrender deals.

A report for Omran Centre for Strategic Studies said the chaos was due to “competition between a flurry of local forces”, as well as ISIL and regime sleeper cells.

The instability was affecting the popularity of all rebels, the report’s author Nawar Oliver told AFP, especially HTS.

“Many areas in Idlib hate HTS and are ready to revolt against them at any time,” said the analyst.

Popular anger “could help the regime if it tried to take back the province”, Oliver said.

But discontent over the violence could also “make civilians more favourable to an alternative” put forward by Ankara and Moscow, he said.

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