The Syrian government and its ally Russia have hinted, in recent statements, that a push to retake the northern province of Idlib, the last major rebel-held area, may begin soon.
It is a sign that Syria’s seven-year civil war may be entering its final stages, but also a warning that the conflict will not end without at least one more humanitarian crisis.
Russia has called Idlib a “hotbed of terrorists”, and even Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, says he believes as many as 10,000 al-Qaeda-linked fighters may now be gathered in the province.
Idlib is also home to nearly three million people – almost half of them displaced from territory already recaptured by the Syrian government – including Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Deraa province.
Syria’s foreign minister said on Thursday that his government plans to “liberate” Idlib, and Russia is reported to be building up its naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea.
There has been talk of humanitarian corridors to help ease human suffering in the province, but there is little doubt any government offensive to retake Idlib will come at a terrible human cost.
What is next for Idlib and for Syria as a whole, if its civil war is, indeed, entering its final phase?
Presenter: Hashem Ahelbarra
Alexey Khlebnikov – Middle East expert at the Russian International Affairs Council
Mamoun Abu Nowar – retired Jordanian air force general
Haid Haid – research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation
Source: Al Jazeera News