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An Impeding Massacre In Idlib

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, September 1

Just like in a suspenseful game of chess, the Syrian civil war has come down to a final act between the two remaining players on the game board: Assad’s forces backed by Russia on one hand, and Al-Nusrah front and its affiliate militias, on the other. This battle, however, has largely been pre-determined. Thousands of Assad troops are awaiting an order to storm Idlib, where the outnumbered Islamist forces are located. In addition to the support provided to them by Russian fighter jets and cruise ships, Assad’s troops have the advantage of fighting alongside skillful Iranian militias. Therefore, it is only a matter of time until they take over the last remaining bastion of the Syrian opposition in Idlib. These two sides—Assad’s forces and the Islamists—are the very same sides that brought destruction upon Syria during the past seven years of fighting. They empowered each other: The Islamist rebels portrayed Assad as a lawful leader in the eyes of many nations around the world, and thus provided him with much-needed legitimacy. Assad, meanwhile, slaughtered thousands of his citizens, making it easy for these extremist organizations to recruit new members into their ranks. And while the two camps preferred to refrain from direct confrontation to date, now, following the defeat of the Free Syrian Army, there is no one else left on the battlefield. This ultimate confrontation has become inevitable. What is important for us to remember is that other than serving as a base for these jihadist forces, Idlib is home to over three million innocent civilians. Many of them are displaced Syrians who had already been forced to flee their homes in Syria. Sadly, Assad’s and Russia’s previous modus operandi raise deep concern about the fate of these citizens. We have already seen the Syrian regime use chemical weapons against civilian targets, alongside indiscriminate areal bombings. What is currently unfolding in Idlib might become the largest massacre in the Syrian civil war to date. It would be a gruesome way to end this bloody conflict, and world leaders must do whatever they can to prevent Assad from unleashing carnage against his own people. This might suit Assad’s needs very well, but it would be a humanitarian disaster unlike any other. The world has failed to act in defense of the Syrian people too many times in the past few years. Now is the time to prove that Syrian lives are truly sacred in the eyes of Western leaders. –Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed