We are now facing another moment of extreme danger which could extend Syria's suffering for years, says Chris Nineham
The war in Syria risks flaring into a wider conflict once again. At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike by Syrian government forces in northwestern Idlib province on Thursday. Turkey promised "to respond in kind" with attacks on "all" their positions.
NATO member Turkey has been occupying parts of the North East of Syria since 2016. It has been backing opposition forces since the start of the war in 2011, originally in the hope of bringing down the Assad government. But now Erdogan's more limited aims are to knock out Kurdish forces presiding over the partial autonomy granted to them in North-Eastern Syria and to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into Turkey.
Erdogan has warned Turkey would launch a full-scale offensive to repel Syrian forces unless they pulled back from Turkish observation posts in the region. He insisted his troops will 'push the regime back past the borders we have set and allow people to return to their homes'. Meanwhile, the Russians are backing Assad's push to recapture the whole of the country.
According to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, retaliatory drone and artillery strikes hit Syrian army positions in southern and eastern parts of the province soon after the attack on Turkish troops. Meanwhile, in a further ratcheting up of tensions, the Interfax news agency reports that Russia has deployed two warships equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles to the Mediterranean Sea towards the Syrian coast.
The intense fighting in the Idlib region has led to a desperate refugee crisis as more than one million have fled their homes. The United Nations said it was having "catastrophic" humanitarian consequences, with at least 134 civilians, including 44 children, killed in February, and schools and hospitals destroyed.
NATO has called an emergency meeting for Friday afternoon. The danger is that Western powers will see this crisis as an opportunity to intervene in Syria once again and to pull Turkey back from strengthening its ties with Russia, something that has been causing alarm in Western capitals for some time. Erdogan has opened Turkey's borders with Greece and Bulgaria and allowed at least some refugees through as a way of stoking up pressure on the EU and the West to back its campaign in Syria.
The desperate nine-year war in Syria has been inflamed and prolonged by foreign interventions on all sides. We are now facing another moment of extreme danger which could extend Syria's suffering for years and potentially regionalise the conflict. As U.N. General Secretary Antonio Guterres has said what is needed is an immediate cease-fire. Continued foreign interventions make that much less likely. The last thing the Syrian people need is great power rivalries once again being fought out on its territory. We must demand that NATO does not escalate and that Russia, Turkey and all foreign powers end their interventions.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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