Displaced people along Syrian-Turkish border concerned about Syrian army’s advance in Idlib

IDLIB, Syria – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been undertaking a violent campaign in the countryside of Idlib to take back territory it hasn’t held for years. Fearing the ongoing war, approximately a million people fled north towards the Turkish border. The humanitarian crises worsened when Turkey refused to open its borders to the fleeing masses.

While in the years prior to the crises in Idlib, civilians were able to flee to Turkey, the Turkish government stopped issuing refugee documentation to new arrivals in mid-2018 and increased deportations, according to Human Rights Watch.  The ensuing humanitarian crises in Idlib has only worsened by Turkey’s refusal to open its borders, forcing those fleeing to stay in whatever accommodations they can find. Many people do not have adequate shelter and there have been several reports of children and the elderly freezing to death in the winter cold.

The SAA, meanwhile, announced the capture of several villages in the southern countryside of Idlib, including Sheikh Mustafa, Al-Naqeer, Kafr Sijnah, Arenabeh, and Sutuh al-Deir. The SAA is currently advancing towards Deir Sunbul and Tarmala.

These developments come after the SAA took control of the villages of Sheikh Damis and Hantoutin southwest and northwest of Maarat al-Numan in the southern countryside of Idlib.

The government advance at one point even reached the borders of the “Atma” camp for displaced people, near the Turkish border, according to a resident in the camp.  The camp resident commented on the SAA’s progress saying that, “The regime today is advancing from everywhere, and we are besieged here on the borders.”

The camp’s residents fear that they will get stuck in an active combat zone between the SAA and the Turkish border.

Fearing a new refugee crisis, Turkey has pushed thousands of its forces to Idlib over the past few weeks. Moreover, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that his country would use force to push the SAA forces back, unless it withdrew from the areas it controlled by the end of this month.

To the west of Idlib, opposition militants bombed SAA positions in the southern countryside of Latakia and the vicinity of Hmeimim Air Base, which houses Russian military personal and aircraft, with several surface-to-surface rockets. Government air defenses attempted to intercept the rockets. It is unclear if there were any casualties in the rocket attack.