Military actions risk fanning the flames of conflict in Syria

Tuesday, 2018-03-13 12:54:31
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A man holds a child after an airstrike in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 7, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The situation of the Syrian battlefield has been proceeding in a complex manner with the simultaneous presence of many military fronts. While Syrian government forces are intensifying their campaigns to recapture eastern Ghouta from the rebels, the Afrin enclave in northern Syria sees the expansion of Turkey’s “Olive Branch” campaign. The Syrian battlefield shows no signs of cooling down in the context of a proxy war currently taking place between world powers.

Nearly two months after Turkey’s launch of the “Olive Branch” campaign against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, Turkish forces, in coordination with Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, have reclaimed 850 square kilometres in Afrin. With the goal of gaining control of 2,000 square kilometres in this region, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his plan to expand the campaign against the force, which he has alleged to be terrorists. Erdogan reported that since Ankara launched the “Olive Branch” campaign in Afrin, more than 3,200 terrorists had been “disabled”. Turkish troops have besieged Afrin and are poised to enter the city, he said, stating that the eastern part of the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border will be cleared of terrorist groups following Ankara’s military campaigns in Syria.

Turkey always asserted that its military campaign in Afrin was aimed at Kurdish fighters in Syria, who are regarded by Ankara as terrorists and a threat to Turkey’s security and territorial integrity. However, Turkey’s deployment of large-scale military campaigns deep inside Syrian territory has come up against with strong opposition from the Damascus administration, triggering concerns about affecting the national reconciliation process in Syria. This campaign has also caused tensions between Turkey and its Western allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), especially the United States, which supports the YPG and considers the force as their most effective counterpart in the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). NATO allies are concerned that Ankara’s military campaign could affect the fight against extremist Islamic terrorists in Syria.

The fierce conflicts between Syrian government troops and rebel gunmen in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, have also raised concerns among the international community about a catastrophic humanitarian disaster. The UN Security Council has called on involved parties to comply with the ceasefire under the adopted resolution. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), more than 1,000 people have died since the Syrian government launched an offensive on the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta three weeks ago. After days of intense fighting, Syrian government forces cut off contact between the largest town in eastern Ghouta and the rest of the region, almost breaking the unstable area in the outskirts of Damascus into three parts. More than 400,000 people in eastern Ghouta are living with a shortage of food, fuel, medicine, and drinking water, being entirely dependent on the sources supplied by humanitarian relief organisations.

The Syrian Army has captured about 52% of eastern Ghouta. This is a chance for the Syrian Army to step up a large-scale offensive to expel rebel gunmen from the key area, which lies on the eastern belt of Damascus. Rebel gunmen began to drop their weapons and evacuate from this region to a government-controlled junction. Russia ordered a daily five-hour “humanitarian pause” in eastern Ghouta to facilitate humanitarian relief activities. The Syrian government also opened a humanitarian corridor outside the area to allow civilians to leave the encirclement. However, the international community remains concerned about the risk of conflicts dragging many people into a bloody tragedy.

Over the past seven years, the Syrian civil war has been inherently complicated due to conflicts between the various factions. The involvement of world and regional powers in this war, on the grounds of counter-terrorism, has incidentally transformed the Syrian battlefield into an arena for a proxy war. For whatever reason, the ongoing military actions are in danger of spreading the flames of conflict, hindering diplomatic efforts, and stalling the negotiations needed to reach a political agreement for Syria to resolve the crisis.