Syrian suffering continues in Idlib

Syrian suffering continues in Idlib
5 min read
11 April, 2019
Surrounded on all sites, under artillery bombardment and airstrikes, displaced in some cases twice or three times already, those trapped in Idlib have nowhere to go, reports Zouhir al-Shimale.
Artillery bombings and airstrikes have continued on Idlib despite ceasefire agreements [Anadolu]
While the world's attention drawn elsewhere, another battle continues in Idlib, western Syria. Here, civilians are being slaughtered amid the silence of the international community.

This is how it's been in northern Syria for weeks; large scale artillery attacks and airstrikes against residential villages with no military presence - troops redeployed following the agreement between Russia and Turkey in Sochi.

Six months after the deal was signed, there are no signs of positivity on the ground. The situation here has reached a critical turning point as violent clashes continue between troops loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel factions.

But it is within the demilitarised zone where the highest casualties are occurring, with frequent shelling. Last month saw two serious attacks in less than 12 hours.

The regime has been increasing its attacks using cluster bombs, according to an SNHR report, which featured a picture of remnants from cluster munitions which had hit Ma'aret al-Noman province, in the rural areas to the south of Idlib.

Victims of attacks

Masoud lost his wife during the Madameyat Sham bombardment in 2014, leaving him with three young children to look after alone. With a back injury sustained in the same attack that took his wife's life, he has struggled to find a job.

Masoud has been living in Ma'aret al-Noman ever since his family were evacuated from East Ghouta following its long siege in 2018.

"My young daughter Karema, 12 years old, has a blood cancer and Mediterranean Fever, which has been my main concern as I struggle to carry on [affording and sourcing] her medication," Masoud told The New Arab.

"Whenever I go to the hospitals asking for new dosages for Karema, it takes me on long journeys to find her injections. She needs to be regularly given medicines to decrease the blood cancer effects in her body.

"Her status is very sensitive; she needs to be taken to Turkey for further medical treatment, but the way to Turkey has been closed for us," Masoud added. "I have to leave the town, it has become deserted, shops, schools - only hospitals and mosques are open nowadays."

After escaping a few times we left to stay in the freezing weather under olive trees outside the town. Then we had to go back home, there is nowhere else to go, but to more suffering

Dr Mohammad Khatob, executive director of SAMS in Gaziantep, said such cases weren't unusual. "Illnesses such as blood cancer or even severe degrees of Mediterranean Fever are listed as a third medical priority, and don't normally meet the emergency funding response [criteria] from donors who aren't keen to include these diseases.

"We in SAMS, for instance, have opened a tumor treatment center which includes only two basic sorts. The patients are badly struggling to get treatment and donors are not always generous in this area.

"Turkey, meanwhile, has received some critical cases for proper treatment. However, a great number have been left without medical care."

Mohammad Hallaj, the manager of The Response Coordination group in northern Syria says life in Idlib area attracts those fleeing violence elsewhere in the country.

"Even though many families are heading towards 'Euphrates Shield' areas, the majority of them are trapped in Idlib and the living conditions are very poor, and people's movement is hard," he said.

People are unable to move outside the region, while most of the families here are impoverished and displaced families who can't afford to relocate anyway.

Hallaj says people are heading towards the farmlands near their towns, hoping soon to return.

"Families are heading back in spite of the bombardment to their houses, many were documented in the death tolls due to the intense attacks... We're trying through our documentation to boost the international factors to help reocate the newly displaced families."

Meanwhile, humanitarian medical aid organisations are on 24/7 alert to support those who are in dire need. Violet (Bnafsag), which operates in northern Syria to support displaced civilian has been undertaking significant efforts to help refugees across the region.

Foad Sayd Esa, who leads Violet from Gaziantep, told The New Arab: "We have a large group of staff alongside other NGOs working on first aid 24 hours, all of us on emergency status.

"We are supplying newly migrated families with blankets, food and basic needs, and sometime cash funding to help them after losing their homes.

"Many people are staying without shelter, our team on the ground is unable to manage this humanitarian crisis, because we don't have enough teams working on the ground due to the lack of funds.

"Thus, many are staying few nights with not even a blanket to cover them in this freezing weather.

"Another problem we have is the overcrowded camps which have been built in the past years. People find it easier to go back to their destroyed houses because they can't find shelter - we can't cover everyone, as thousands of families have been fleeing the shelling."

We believe that we'll not die before our time comes. We've survived chemical attacks and a lot of airstrikes before. How much worse could it get?

Mohammad and his young brother fled with their parents from Khan Sheikhoun on February 10, then couldn't find a decent shelter in which to take cover. Only deserted wastelands were available.

"After escaping a few times we left to stay in the freezing weather under olive trees outside the town. Then we had to go back home, there is nowhere else to go, but to more suffering.

"After going back we had our house directly attacked with a mortar bomb; thankfully only shrapnel got into my brother's leg."

Mohammad's family moved to another home in the town, belonging to a relative who could not cope with the intensity of the attacks on Khan Sheikhoun and had left the area.

"We believe that we'll not die before our time comes," said Mohammad. "We've survived chemical attacks and a lot of airstrikes before. How much worse could it get?"

Zouhir al-Shimale is a Syrian journalist from Aleppo. 

Follow him on Twitter: @ZouhirAlShimale