Northern Syria caught between Turkey’s hammer and Russian anvil

Northern Syria has experienced an upsurge in violence in recent days. Regime forces shelled a hospital on Sunday, killing at least six civilians. Fighting between the Syrian opposition forces and Turkey and their proxies has intensified. Russia has allegedly bombed a place nearby
the Turkish-Syrian border. The escalation is possibly a last-minute fight to secure gains before expected US interference, one expert suggests.

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A hospital in the city of al-Atareb, located west of Aleppo, was bombed on Sunday by a regiment of the Russian-backed Assad regime. At least six civilians were killed, including a child and a doctor. A statement from the International Rescue Committee, whose partner organization runs the hospital, said the devastation caused by the attack has put the hospital out of service.

A statement by the Syrian opposition organization The White Helmets called the attack on the hospital “a terrorist crime and a new massacre.” The statement also said that “this crime is a continuation of Russia’s regime and systematic policy of targeting

medical facilities and hospitals, ”and demanded that the international community take action against the Assad regime.

Attacks by Russian forces have also been reported in northern Syria. Recent airstrikes carried out by Russian planes in the northern province of Idlib, near the Turkish border, have targeted a truck stop, a cement factory and a gas facility. Local teams were forced

to fight the fires caused by the attacks.
The area has also seen an intensification of Turkish activity. On Saturday, Turkish planes attacked positions of the Syrian Democratic Forces in al-Raqqa province, the first such attack in 17 months, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At the same time, the Turkish representatives increased their efforts in the province to advance against the opposition forces.

Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the US Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC and an expert on regional security in the Middle East, said that the larger interests of Russia and Turkey are at stake in northern Syria, leading these recent events. “I think this

It all looks a bit like the Turks trying to seize this moment, when there is still no really serious American strategy toward Syria under the Biden administration, to consolidate gains, eliminate opposition, and solidify their position in the north of the country. ”Berman told The Media Line.

Turkey currently controls large sections of territory in northern Syria, located on their shared border. The territories were captured in a series of military operations, the last of which occurred in 2019. When Turkey invaded Syria in 2019, following the United States’ withdrawal from the region, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said the operation was against “terrorists in northern Syria”. of the pro-Kurdish workers of Kurdistan; The militias of the Party (PKK) and the Popular Protection Units (YPG) and the Islamic State (ISIS),

to “prevent the creation of a terrorist corridor across our southern border and bring peace to the area.”

The Russians, in turn, “want to stay but they don’t want to pay,” according to Berman.

The expert says that as the conversation about Syria shifts toward reconstruction, Moscow is interested in “maneuvering that conversation on the assumption that the Russians are there, that they are providing the protective force. And that is your contribution,

they are not going to contribute more economically ”.

Russia has benefited greatly from its presence in Syria, which it used as “a kind of springboard to re-enter” the Middle East, Berman said. To preserve its position, Moscow has to ensure that the Assad regime remains weak and trustworthy, and that it continues.

act as your protector. Recent Russian activity must be understood in this context, he said.
However, the two foreign players are unlikely to clash if the current situation persists and Turkey stays in the north. Both countries would like Assad to remain weak, allowing them to continue to pursue their own interests in Syria. With this in mind, the Russians
they are “perfectly ready for the Turks to carve out an area of ​​influence in the north of the country,” according to Berman.

Zvi Magen, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, also links the attacks to broader regional power dynamics, but sees these events in the context of an ongoing conflict for control of Syria, in the one that Turkey and

Russia are rivals. The recent escalation is “nothing new,” Magen told The Media Line, calling it an “ongoing conflict” that has “its lows and peaks, from time to time.”
Lately, however, the fighting has reached “new all-time highs” because “the Turks are unwilling to cooperate,” he said.

Magen said Turkey hosts rebels who survived the Syrian civil war in the territories it owns and, from there, they launch attacks outside of Turkish areas. Russia, for its part, aims to “create order”, which means that the rebels and their Turkish protectors are standing firm.

in opposition to those efforts.

Magen also says that Russia is using Syria as a base for action in the region. “They are very active in the eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Gulf, and Syria is a base for this,” he said. Russia’s attempts to restore order in Syria are part of a

effort to become a power in the Middle East, he added.

Consequently, the attacks are actually part of a much larger conflict over regional superiority. “It’s kind of a competition between regional superpowers for regional influence,” Magen concludes.

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