A Syrian rebel fighter from the “National Liberation Front” takes part in combat training at an unknown location in northern Idlib province last week.
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This time, the splintered and diverse rebels have only Turkey.Idlib, with its 3 million residents and more than 60,000 fighters, is Turkey's cross to bear.It has access to Turkish borders, securing supply lines for weapons, fighters and aid.For the past two years, Idlib became the shoebox into which were pushed an estimated 20,000 rebel fighters from around the country, after their losses to government troops and surrender deals negotiated with Russia and Damascus following devastating sieges.Separately, Turkey has troops stationed in the enclave under its control north and east of Idlib, where it backs Syrian opposition fighters and a civilian administration.These Turkey-administered areas are likely to be the destination of the displaced and rebels of Idlib in case of an offensive.An Idlib offensive holds multiple threats for Turkey right on its border – a humanitarian crisis, a security nightmare with thousands of gunmen loose and a defeat to its plans for the safe zone.If Syrian forces retake Idlib with no agreement on the fate of the opposition fighters, they could threaten the Turkey-controlled enclave, and Ankara would lose credibility with the fighters and leverage with Damascus on any future deal.
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