Syrian President Bashar Assad has given the approval to use chemical weapons to rout the last remaining stronghold of insurgents in his country, in the city of Idlib. According to The Hill, approximately 70,000 opposition fighters remain in Idlib, and U.N. officials are concerned that an offensive could cause hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced in an area that is already overrun with refugees. Fox News states that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to convince Assad’s allies in Russia and Iran to accept a ceasefire at a trilateral summit last week, but neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would accept his terms. In fact, Putin stated that he wished to see a “total annihilation of terrorists in Syria” and Rouhani echoed his statement with a call for “cleansing the Idlib region of terrorists.” Both men were referring to the remaining opposition fighters.
Last week, President Trump warned Assad via Twitter that he could expect retaliation if Syria attacked Idlib. That retaliation includes a possibility of a military response, but at least one administration official has stated that is not the only option. “We have political tools at our disposal, we have economic tools at our disposal,” the official said, according to The Hill. “There are a number of different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless, dangerous step.”
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
Reuters reports that Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar again called for a ceasefire in the region on Monday. “Our most important effort is toward stopping all air and ground attacks on Idlib immediately and establishing a ceasefire and stability in the region,” he said. Unfortunately, with Assad’s decision to approve the use of chlorine against the insurgents, it appears that his call is being ignored, and Idlib is preparing for the worst. Should an attack occur and displace as many as 800,000 people, the United Nations has warned that it could cause a humanitarian crisis, because there are already so many refugees in the region. Idlib is located in northern Syria, and the closest international border is with Turkey, less than 50 km to the north. Turkey itself has already stated that it cannot accommodate any more migrants, as it currently hosts approximately 3.5 million refugees.
Late last week, President Trump reversed his policy regarding American troops stationed in Syria, according to the Washington Post. He had originally stated that he wanted to get U.S. troops out of Syria, but has now committed to leaving the approximately 2,200 soldiers stationed there indefinitely.