Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Image Credit: REUTERS

‘I believe that with this agreement we prevented a humanitarian crisis in Idlib,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said. He was talking after his summit meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow. This came only days after Ankara warned of a Russian plan to launch a huge offensive with government forces to control Idlib province.

Now both Russia and Turkey are saying they had agreed to create “a buffer zone”, jointly under their supervision, in the province to separate Syrian government forces and their Iranian and Hezbollah militia allies from rebel fighters. Putin explained the demilitarised zone (15-25km) will be established by October 15.

A lot of ambiguity engulfs the agreement as the two presidents have had many disagreements over the Syrian conflict since the Russians entered Syria in 2015. Most recently, they publicly disagreed on the issue a few weeks ago.

The Russian president rebuffed Erdogan’s proposal for a ceasefire in Idlib when the two met with their Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in Tehran’s three-way summit in early September. However, no details were given of how and what areas will be included in the proposed deal or whether the suggested buffer zone would incorporate the city of Idlib itself.

Therefore, there is no guarantee whatsoever that this “agreement” will necessarily see the light for two main reasons: First, because of the lack of trust between Russia and Turkey as events have shown on many occasions during the seven-year criminal war in which 450,000 victims are estimated to have been slaughtered. Both countries, as well as Iran are largely responsible for allowing the killing machine to continue unabated by either mercilessly sponsoring and protecting their proxies, or by being directly involved in this dirty war.

The debate continues

Second, the lack of trust between the international community on the one hand and both Erdogan and Putin on the other. In fact, it is not only this lack of trust, but it is also the almost total absence of the international community from Syria’s tragic war zone. The world community has unfortunately remained, by and large, unmoved even as Syrian civilians faced horrific consequences due to senseless fighting.

Apart from the joint US, French and British missile attack last April, none of these or other world powers have raised a finger against the outlawed regime of Bashar Al Assad since the later launched his barbaric war against his own people in 2011. Debates are currently taking place in at least three major European countries on whether Europe (Germany, the UK and France) should actively participate in the war efforts to rid the country of its brutal regime.

The debates centre on a major question: can the European countries take part in a military operation without the participation of the US and, if so, how? Last week it was reported in Germany that the country’s Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has set up a team of experts to look into these questions. But it was made clear that the purpose of any action must be to stop or react to Al Assad’s government in case it uses chemical weapons against the civilian population trapped in the rebel-held city of Idlib.

Those who argue against military intervention say the complexity of the situation in Idlib itself makes such action highly risky. They point to two major realities: First, the fact that Russia’s role on the ground puts the conflict into a dimension that extends beyond a merely regional context. Second, any European military intervention will remain symbolic rather than effective.

But others are saying that any future military operations will not necessarily take place in Idlib itself, but would target facilities of the Syrian regime in other places in the country. The main aim of such operations is to send the regime and its sponsors in Moscow and Tehran a clear message that there is a price to pay for violating international law.

Price of inaction

In the meantime, France’s President Emmanuel Macron has already made clear his country’s readiness to join any meaningful action to put an end to the brutality in Syria. As his country is a member of the UN Security Council’s permanent five members, the French president went further in proposing to refrain from the use of veto in the Security Council whenever there was credible evidence of genocide.

Meanwhile in the UK, another permanent member of the Council, there are voices that are increasingly calling on the British government to urgently act against any future crime against humanity. Members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that represent all major parliamentarian parties confirm in their latest report that the price of inaction in Syria “has been unacceptably high.”

However, these are not calls for military action that would increase the tragedy in Syria manifold. The world community should seriously weigh all possible options that would put an end to this bloody war. By allowing this war to continue into the abyss, the international community would be complicit in failing Syria and its people.

Mustapha Karkouti is a columnist and former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. Twitter: @mustaphatache.