As Syria enters the tenth year of its civil war, the northwest region of Idlib is in ruins. One of the last remaining rebel holdouts, Idlib has seen as much as a third of its buildings destroyed since December, when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russian air forces and Iranian-backed ground militias, initiated attacks to reclaim the region. In response, Turkey, which supports the rebel militias, demanded that Syria and its allies remove their forces from areas that had been designated as de-escalation zones by the end of February. Syria ignored the ultimatum, and the resulting war-within-a-war has had disastrous consequences: almost a million civilians have been displaced, some for the second or third time since the war began. Many are fleeing to Turkey, hoping to find shelter in Europe. The United Nations undersecretary general has called the situation in Idlib “the biggest humanitarian horror story of the twenty-first century.”
On March 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to a ceasefire deal, halting what could have turned into direct conflict. The agreement solidifies the territorial gains that the Syrian government has made since December, including access to vital highways—a major loss to both Turkey and the rebels (including Islamist extremist groups with ties to Al-Qaeda). As of this writing, despite small violations on Syria’s part, the ceasefire agreement appears to be holding, granting a much-needed reprieve to civilians suffering under Syrian attacks. But the fact remains that Assad is determined to take back Idlib, and when he strikes, Turkey will likely try to stop him.