Idlib Residents Urge Turkey to Stave Off Regime Attack
Hundreds of Syrians took to the streets in the country's last major rebel bastion of Idlib Friday, calling on neighboring Turkey to help prevent a regime assault on their region.
Demonstrators in the northwestern province also denounced a summit in Tehran between the leaders of rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran to determine the province's fate.
"We all came to protest to say that this people will not back down and will not return to the era of (President) Bashar al-Assad," said Abdurazzaq Awwad, a father-of-one in Idlib city.
"We expect the Turks to stand by this people," said Awwad, 31.
"We are not happy at all that the fate of Idlib is being decided in Tehran," said Awwad, who sported a black beard and wore a white shirt.
"Idlib's fate should be decided by its people."
Around him, protesters held up the three-star flag of the Syrian opposition.
"Your plots and conferences mean nothing to us," read one sign.
Yussef Sadiq, 35, condemned the conference in Tehran as "Iran is part of the problem."
"Most Syrians hope that Turkey's efforts will succeed in stopping an assault against Idlib and in protecting its population," said the bespectacled young man, whose home city of Aleppo was retaken by regime forces in late 2016 after a crippling siege and deadly bombardment.
Some three million people live in Idlib province and adjacent areas, the United Nations says, around half of whom have already fled their homes in other parts of Syria.
Assad's regime has massed forces around Idlib in recent weeks, sparking international alarm over an imminent offensive on the region controlled by al-Qaida's former Syrian affiliate and rebels.
The United Nations says up to 800,000 people could be displaced by fighting and aid groups fear the worst humanitarian crisis so far in Syria's seven-year war.
Turkey, which already hosts more than three million refugees, is keen to avoid a new influx across its border.
Sawsan Al-Saeed, a 45-year-old pharmacist from the same city, was defiant.
"I am certain that Turkey won't leave the region," she said.
Similar demonstrations were held in Idlib's towns of Khan Sheikhun and Jisr al-Shughur, as well as opposition-held areas in the neighboring provinces of Hama and Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Assad's Russia-backed regime has retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and jihadists, especially in recent months, through a combination of deadly military campaigns and surrender deals.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of the conflict in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.