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Syria’s Crisis on Edge: Staffan de Mistura, the Last Hope for Idlib

Assad's regime with Russia ready to attack a city with millions of civilians and refugees trapped. The UN Special Envoy appeals to prevent the bloodshed

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura (Photo UN/Violaine Martine)

Staffan de Mistura is asking the Syrian government to take time to negotiate and avoid a drastic military action in Idlib: “So, I am once again prepared, once more, personally and physically, to get involved myself, with the Government cooperation this time, because that is an area where they are in charge outside Idlib."

On July 2014, after being appointed as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura was tasked with the seemingly impossible job of finding a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. His predecessors had met with impossible odds while trying to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis and Syria’s crisis was the “Mission impossible” for the United Nations. Mr. de Mistura persisted on finding a solution to the crisis and even offered to personally escort insurgents out of Aleppo in an effort to try and stop the killing of residents, most of whom were children.

Once again the threat of another humanitarian catastrophe looms over Syria. On August 30th, Staffan de Mistura strongly advocated for the safe relocation of civilians located in Idlib. “There is…no other Idlib, where can they go?” Mr. de Mistura said. “Where can anyone go? So, for every time there was a crisis and there was a conclusion to that one crisis, there was a place where many could opt to go. There is no other Idlib.”

Mr. de Mistura is asking the Syrian government to take time to negotiate and avoid a drastic military action in Idlib. De Mistura stressed: “So, I am once again prepared, once more, personally and physically, to get involved myself, with the Government cooperation this time, because that is an area where they are in charge outside Idlib.” Concerned with a repeat of the devastating events of the 2016 Aleppo attack, Mr. de Mistura is emphasizing the importance of a clear line communication between the Syrian regime, Russia, and the UN to “avoid the worst case scenario.” In a press conference in Geneva (watch the video), the Special Envoy said: “We need to maintain the moral pressure to not hurry with any drastic military option”.

Idlib is one of the last de-escalation zones in northern Syria neighboring Turkey with an active insurgent presence. The Syrian government, along with the support of Russian forces, is planning to crack down on the rebel factions who control the Idlib province. Approximately, 2.9 million civilians are in the province and a least 1.4 million of these civilians have been relocated there. There is a significant humanitarian concern because the Russian military intervention in the Idlib province seems imminent. After a closed-door meeting in Moscow, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Muallem along with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov announced that Syria is planning to intervene and “go all the way” in Idlib to eradicate the rebel fractions. Although the Mr. al-Muallem assures that there will be an effort to not harm the civilians, this could start another refugee crisis because there is no other place to relocate the civilians. Turkey already hosts approximately 3 million Syrian refugees and is clearly not in favor of a military operation in Syria that will create another wave of refugees towards Turkish borders. As of now, the Turkish borders remain closed.

Would the willingness of de Mistura to go into Idlib to protect the civilians with his diplomatic stature be enough to prevent a bloodshed? We will see in the next days.

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