AFP PHOTO. OMAR HAJ KADOUR
Idlib province and its cities are currently inhabited by about 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by the regime from their cities and towns over the past years throughout the country. The city of Khan Shehun in Idlib alone was hit by 44 airstrikes, as well as explosive barrels and artillery shells.
What’s happening in Idlib?
Since late April, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented 270 deaths, including 55 civilians, in various assassinations. In addition to detonating car bombs and explosive devices. The Syrian regime continues to send massive military reinforcements to the borders of Idlib province, waiting to start a large-scale campaign on the province.
Amnesty International has documented numerous attacks on hospitals, blood banks and ambulances as well as rescue workers, and posted on its Facebook page: “Our research shows that the bombing of medical facilities, which is itself a war crime, has become part of a pattern adopted by The Syrian authorities to systematically attack civilians, which is also a crime against humanity.”
With the help of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias, dictator Bashar Al Assad has succeeded in confining armed fighting groups in Idlib province. Having taken control of the rest of Syria, the head of state and his allies began a slow war of attrition on the province in April 2019. The planes of the regime and its ally Russia are attacking Idlib. Although the area was supposed to be a demilitarized zone due to a Russian-Turkish agreement since September 2018.
Noir Oliver, a researcher at the Istanbul-based Omran Center for strategic Studies, believes that by direct targeting of civilians a strategy of attrition is in place. According to Oliver, the escalation aims primarily to “put pressure on the factions, after the area now includes all the Syrian opposition and their families.” Therefore, any pressure on the citizens will reflect on the factions.
Genocide under international indifference
The United Nations gave Russia hospital locations in northern Syria in a process known as “deconfliction” under which the United Nations provides coordinates of hospitals, schools, bakeries and other civilian infrastructure to Russia, Turkey and the United States, with the goal of preventing hits on these locations. Nonetheless, Russian warplanes targeted 46 health facilities Of those, 14 were against facilities that the United Nations had identified to Russia as hospitals. Ambulances and rescue teams in Idlib were struck, in addition to attacks on schools in the region. Five paramedics have been killed in the cities of Maarat al-Nu’man and Khan Sheikhoun, during strikes as they attempted to evacuate civilians from the area since the end of April. Russia also repeatedly targeted, schools, markets and infrastructures.
The Syrian opposition calls the escalation “genocide”, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned “international indifference” as the shelling continued, forcing more than 750,000 civilians to flee to the most hidden areas in northern Syria and refugee camps in Turkey.
“This property is civilian, and it seems very unlikely that it was accidentally hit due to the continuing pattern of such attacks,” Michel Bachelet, the head of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement. Recalling that deliberate attacks against civilians are a war crime ” Bachelet pointed to the collective indifference of the international community and that there is paralysis due to the disagreement of the five permanent members of the Security Council to use its power and influence, the result is a widespread tragedy.
A safe zone in the North of Syria
President Erdogan’s speech hardly mentions Turkey’s intention to increase safety northern Syria. After three days of negotiations, Ankara and Washington agreed to establish a joint operations center to manage the region in north east Syria. According to the Anatolia news agency, Ankara’s finger will remain on the trigger despite the interim agreement with Washington. Turkey’s military build-up will not retreat, pending Washington’s moves on Syrian soil. New Turkish military reinforcements have reportedly arrived at the border with Syria.
The Trump administration faces a big challenge
The Washington Post published an analysis of the American journalist, Josh Rogin, saying that the administration of President Donald Trump is facing a great challenge. Roger quoted Republican Party member Lindsey Graham as saying that Washington should openly reassure the Turks that Kurdish forces would withdraw from the border. In return, it must convince its Kurdish allies that they are safe from any Turkish attacks that could lead to a massacre. Graham revealed a plan to keep most of the current US forces of about 900 soldiers in Syria. A Republican member called on Trump to clarify the confusion, saying: “The president must inform our allies that we will not give up northeastern Syria” According to Rogin he was informed by Graham that US commanders inside Syria would prefer a safe area free of terrorism, while not dragging the Kurds into Assad’s arms. Graham warned of the danger of ISIS, due to the vacuum left by the US withdrawal from the northeast of Syria. He pointed out that this is not a military adventure, nor a quest for regime change, or petitions for oil, but to protect Washington’s interests in the region. Graham’s interests are to fight extremism and prevent Syria from becoming more than a source of instability and human tragedy that it is today.
The first official indictment of Russia
The U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock accused Russia for the first time of supporting attacks committed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Idlib. Lowcock blames the Syrian regime and its allies of continuing the aerial bombardment “relentlessly”. The frequency of the attacks ruled out that the pattern is just a “coincidence” as Russia claims. Lowcock confirmed that the information was verified, in addition to satellite images, videos of explosions, destroyed buildings, burned bodies and screams of children. “We hope to get more clarification from Russia on targeting hospitals and schools,”he said. Lowcock questions the security council and asks them to listen to the children of Idlib’s cries to stop this war.
Putin wants to declare victory in Syria
Moscow is pushing more consistently than ever before to fully reintegrate Syria under Syrian President Assad.
Whether in peace or war, Idlib will return to Assad either way. Russia can’t afford the high costs to continue their huge military presence for another year. Assad is in a hurry to claim the victory and perpetuate a more vengeful dictatorship than before the uprising of the Syrian people. It is only natural that the Russians, the Iranians, Hezbollah, and the rest of the militias with whom they are fighting will tighten their grip on the whole of Syria and surrender it to Assad. They were loyal to him and supported him by all means until they returned him as the ruler of Syria after he lost the power over 80% of Syrian ground. Now the time has come for him to pay.
Syria is far from peace. After all the horror of war crimes from all sides it won’t become as it once was, nor are the Syrians as they were. Peace in Idlib will hopefully be the end of the war, but it will not be there will not be peace of mind for millions of victims, nor a new beginning for a homeland for all who fled Assad’s regime.