In May 2017, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed on de-escalation zones in Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, Daraa and Quneitra. For six months, the trio agreed, the regime and rebels should stop fighting and allow aid into civilian areas. Fighting declined in the immediate aftermath of the deal being signed, but then soon resumed to pre-May levels just a few months on. It seemed the regime had grown tired of ceasefires.
More than a year later, when Russia and Turkey announced the formation of a demilitarised zone in Idlib, many of its supporters quickly forgot the maxim that history repeats itself. James Jeffrey, Washington’s special representative on Syria, called the zone a “major step” that had “frozen the conflict [in Idlib], but [also] the conflict… essentially everywhere else.”
Assad used a different phrase to describe the demilitarised zone. Calling it a “temporary measure,” on 26 October—less than two weeks after it came into effect—the regime violated the zone by bombing Idlib and the protected town of Kafr Hamra. It has continued to attack Idlib and the surrounding areas ever since.
On 2 November, the regime began bombing Jarjanaz village, which is home to 31,500 people. Since then, it has attacked the area on a near daily basis, killing at least 18 people in the past month. In fear for their lives, around 90 percent of the village’s population has fled to the surrounding areas, turning Jarjanaz into a ghost town.
Even Russia, one of the architects of the demilitarised zone has violated it, launching airstrikes on the Aleppo countryside the day after an alleged chemical weapons attack by rebel groups on 24 November. The US and other observers now say the regime staged the attack to try and smear the rebels and likely justify airstrikes.
Despite Russia’s actions, the demilitarised zone remains in place with Moscow saying it just needs more time to become fully effective. But with the regime and the rebels now exchanging constant fire in and around the zone, it may be that the ceasefire is already over. Should the attacks continue to mount, the province’s three million-strong population will be in serious danger. And unlike the people of Jarjanaz, they won’t have anywhere to go.