Inside Story

Inside Idlib: Saving Syria

As the crackdown on opposition strongholds continues, we ask if diplomacy or military intervention will end the crisis.

The Syrian government crackdown on the dissenting northern city of Idlib has continued for a third day, with casualties from random shelling and sniper fire mounting, and growing concerns for many citizens detained by government forces.

I can’t tell you what an unequal contest this is …. The phrase that we felt yesterday applied to it was ‘Shooting fish in a barrel’ – these people can’t escape, they can’t help themselves, they have very little weaponry, what can they do but sit there and take it?”

– Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera correspondent

The assault on Idlib is just the latest attempt by government forces to rein in control of opposition-held population centres.

Idlib and its province in the northwest are strategically important because of how close they are to the Turkish border.

The Free Syrian Army is based in Turkey and its border is the most likely location for getting arms into Syria.
The Syrian government is not allowing foreign media into the province, but correspondent Anita McNaught was in and around Idlib with her team and witnessed the beginning of the assault on the city.

She reported: “Idlib’s residents knew the attack by their government was coming, just not when. The tank shells were so earthshaking and relentless locals began fleeing the stricken parts of the city. But shelter is hard to find when mortars take out entire sides of buildings. Syrian army tanks and armoured personnel carriers fire randomly and indiscriminately into the streets and military helicopters armed with rockets fly overhead acting as spotters for the tanks surrounding the city – more than 50 of them, backed by artillery. On the ground, a tiny army of local volunteers – no terrorists here as the government claims – rally to defend their families.”

We speak to Anita McNaught about the assault and Idlib’s role in the Syrian uprising. And, while the international community remains divided over pressuring Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, we ask: Who can save Syria? Should there be more diplomacy or is military intervention the only option to end the crisis? And what is Turkey’s role?
Inside Story, with presenter Adrian Finighan, is joined by guests: Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights and a visiting scholar at George Washington University; Haitham Alsibahie, a member of the Syrian social club, a group of British Syrians and Syrians living in the UK who prefer regime reform to regime change; and Ilter Turan, a professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University who also writes a weekly column for the economic daily Dunya.

“There seems to be a lack of determination on the part of the international community to act together to do something about Syria. And it does seem that Russia and China, in order to prove that things cannot be done without them, have abstracted the potential of the UN to do something about the events in Syria.”

Ilter Turan


  • Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general and current UN-Arab League peace envoy, failed to reach a deal with al-Assad to end the conflict
  • Annan’s visit came as Syrian government troops mounted a major assault in the north of the country
  • Government troops stormed the northern city of Idlib on Saturday
  • Idlib is a stronghold of Free Syrian Army fighters
  • Opposition activists said on Monday that 25 civilians were killed in the attack on Idlib
  • The assault on Idlib is just the latest attempt by al-Assad forces to rein in control of opposition-held centres
  • Idlib is close to the Turkish border and the Free Syrian Army is based in Turkey
  • Activists say government troops are preparing to attack Al-Zawiya
  • The international community remains divided over pressuring al-Assad
  • Security Council members have increased efforts to convince China and Russia to end their veto of UN action in Syria
  • Annan said the world must send a clear and united message that the killing of civilians in Syria was “simply unacceptable”