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Idlib Nightmare: How Syria's Lingering Civil War Is Blocking Earthquake Aid

Across the border from the epicenter in Turkey, the Syrian region of Idlib is home to millions of people displaced by the 12-year-long civil war. The victims there risk not getting assistance because of the interests of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, reminding the world of one of the great unresolved conflicts of our times.

Photo of Syrian civilians inspecting a destroyed residential building in Idlib after the earthquake

A destroyed residential building in Idlib after the earthquake

Pierre Haski


Faced with a disaster of the magnitude of the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria, one imagines a world mobilized to bring relief to the victims, where all barriers and borders disappear. Unfortunately, this is only an illusion in such a complex and scarred corner of the world.

Yes, there's been an instant international outpouring of countries offering assistance and rescue teams converging on the disaster zones affected by the earthquakes. It is a race against time to save lives.

But even in such dramatic circumstances, conflict, hatred and competing interests do not somehow vanish by magic.

Sometimes, victims of natural disasters face a double price. This is the case for the 4.5 million inhabitants of Idlib, a region located in northwestern Syria, which was directly hit by the earthquake. So far, the toll there has reached at least 900 people killed, thousands injured and countless others left homeless in the harsh winter.

The inhabitants of Idlib, two-thirds of whom are displaced from other regions of Syria, live in an area that is still beyond the control of Bashar al-Assad, and they've been 90% dependent on international aid... which has not been arriving.

To put maximum pressure on these millions of people, the Syrian government and its Russian ally have gradually restricted the ability to get humanitarian aid to them.

There used to be four border crossings between Turkey and this region of Syria; now there is only one, Bab al-Hawa. Every year, this border crossing is subject to renewal at the UN Security Council: last year, Moscow threatened to veto, before renewing it for a year. It's a standing blackmail, as all are well aware that a closure of the border would condemn to death those millions of people.

Photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2021

Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool

Terrifying for millions

However, the chaos and destruction caused by the earthquake, with its epicenter right across the border in southern Turkey, means that international aid is no longer getting through to Bab al-Hawa. And this is the moment that the population needs it most.

"This situation is terrifying," a Syrian doctor told Dr. Raphael Pitti, a French humanitarian worker in the region.

Millions of people are therefore deprived of aid in the midst of this disaster: 4.5 million to be exact, including many displaced people living in total poverty, suddenly made dramatically worse by the earthquake.

Geopolitical nightmare

We are witnessing a geopolitical nightmare. Syria has been in the midst of a civil war for 12 years, ever since the population first tried peacefully to overthrow a dictatorship.

Assad is now insisting on the centralization of all international aid.

Since then, the country has been ravaged by war, and the Assad regime, assisted by Russia and Iran, has regained control of most of Syrian territory. And it is now insisting on the centralization of all international aid.

But there remains the area of Idlib, towards which survivors of the besieged cities were directed, and the northeast in the hands of the Kurds, allied with the United States and France. This Syrian jigsaw puzzle, seen in the midst of the earthquake disaster, is a reminder that this conflict is far from over.

The urgency of the matter requires that all humanitarian aid can reach the victims, wherever they are, without delay or questions. But looking to the future, let's not forget how far away we are from any kind of political solution in Syria that would allow millions of refugees to return home.

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How A Xi Jinping Dinner In San Francisco May Have Sealed Mastercard's Arrival In China

The credit giant becomes only the second player after American Express to be allowed to set up a bank card-clearing RMB operation in mainland China.

Photo of a hand holding a phone displaying an Union Pay logo, with a Mastercard VISA logo in the background of the photo.

Mastercard has just been granted a bank card clearing license in China.

Liu Qianshan


It appears that one of the biggest beneficiaries from Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to San Francisco was Mastercard.

The U.S. credit card giant has since secured eagerly anticipated approval to expand in China's massive financial sector, having finally obtained long sought approval from China's central bank and financial regulatory authorities to initiate a bank card business in China through its joint venture with its new Chinese partner.

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Through a joint venture in China between Mastercard and China's NetsUnion Clearing Corporation, dubbed Mastercard NUCC, it has officially entered mainland China as an RMB currency clearing organization. It's only the second foreign business of its kind to do so following American Express in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the development is linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting on Nov. 15 with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, part of a two-day visit that also included dinner that Xi had with U.S. business executives.

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