Idlib: Where to from Here?
Al-Etihad, UAE, August 17
In Idlib, the last rebel-held Syrian province, nearly four million citizens are trapped, with many fleeing the shelling and destruction that previously forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes throughout the country. Some residents of Idlib might have preferred to avoid the destruction that surrounds them, but the Russians did not keep their promises and turned their backs against the Syrian people. Had the Syrian regime presented a clear vision for the future of Syria and engaged the people in direct, genuine dialogue aimed at stopping the fighting, then maybe the bloodshed could have been prevented. But the regime’s insistence on crushing the opposition using military force has only exacerbated the war, threatening to make it last for a few more decades. A senior Syrian official once asked me, “Why do the people of Idlib hate us?” I said, “Maybe because you never gave them any opportunity for a better future.” Idlib has been deprived of any economic opportunities for several decades, even though more than 93 percent of its youth hold university degrees. Had it not been for the labor migration to Greece and Cyprus, as well as to some Gulf countries, the people of Idlib would not have been able to find sources of livelihood. What is important is that I do not know what is the plan of Al-Nusra Front, and whether it will succeed in defeating Russia, Iran, and Damascus. I regret the suffering of the inhabitants of villages and small towns destroyed by hundreds of thousands of raids and bombs. While they are recovering from one massacre after another, the whole world stands idly by, watching. Meanwhile, the Astana peace process is clearly aimed at enabling the Syrian regime to retake Idlib by military force. But the truth is that people prefer to die than to surrender. The real question, therefore, is whether there is a sincere international initiative that brings life to the Geneva negotiations, opens a new page for the Syrian people, and shelters millions of Syrians from a major humanitarian disaster that is about to happen. – Riad Naasan Agha