Around 400 medics, rescue workers and humanitarians have signed an open letter calling on the key players in northwest Syria—Russia, Turkey and members of the UN Security Council—to stop the bombing in the region. Over the past two weeks, the regime and Russia have bombed 16 medical facilities out of service, forcing hospitals to cancel all medical appointments except the provision of emergency care. At least 122 civilians have died in the ongoing offensive and since 29 April, around 180,000 people have fled.
“The whole time we are pulling survivors from the rubble, they are screaming the names of their children or parents or siblings and asking us if they are alive,” the signatories, which include 80 women, write. “In ambulances and in hospitals, we have the terrible job of informing them that their loved ones are dead. Many end up wishing they hadn’t made it. We are physically and emotionally exhausted and worry that the worst is yet to come.”
Northwest Syria is supposed to be protected by a demilitarised zone, agreed to last year by Russia and Turkey. The zone has been repeatedly violated both by extremist groups within Idlib and the regime and Russia. However, the deliberate bombing of hospitals and White Helmets centres, in addition to the aerial targeting of entire neighbourhoods, has only been conducted by Assad and Moscow.
Previous offensives by the two allies, such as in Ghouta and Aleppo, have been preceded by large-scale attacks on medical and search and rescue facilities. Forbidden by international law, this cruel practice ensures that civilians are unable to access potentially life-saving treatment. One attack on a White Helmet warehouse in Idlib destroyed $500,000 worth of equipment in the form of ambulances and machines to lift rubble off trapped civilians. As the signatories to the letter write: “We feel increasingly helpless with every blow to our capacity to save lives.”
“The situation might seem hopeless but the international community can still stop this humanitarian catastrophe,” says Laila Kiki*, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign. “Russia must be urged to uphold the demilitarised zone and and Turkey is responsible to ensure it does so. We have seen multiple times that condemnation from the international community, particularly the US, can halt military action and we need world leaders to speak out now. International governments must also reinstate humanitarian funding to the region, to ensure aid reaches those most in need.”
*Please note that Laila is a pseudonym used for security reasons.