The situation in northwest Syria is worsening daily as the regime continues to bombard civilian areas and push ever closer to the town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib. Between 13 and 14 August alone, around 40,000 people fled their homes, according to local monitoring organisation the Response Coordination Group, as regime forces began making rapid inroads into civilian areas. They join the 530,000 people who have been displaced since the bombing began on 26 April, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The Idlib offensive has been marked by extreme brutality towards civilians, 881 of whom have died in recent months, 228 of them children. A few days ago, civilians reported that flechette munitions were being used against them, which fire out thousands of metal darts, causing indiscriminate injuries. The regime and Russia have also repeatedly targeted health centres, bombing them 40 times since 26 April. After months of silence, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has agreed to launch an investigation into the deliberate targeting of these buildings.
Despite the UN’s investigation, the bombing continues. Rescue workers like the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, speak of being overwhelmed by the needs of trapped and injured civilians while they also fear being targeted by regime and Russian attacks. To date, eight White Helmets volunteers have been killed in Idlib, as the regime and Russia continue to deploy their tactic of “double-tap airstrikes”—bombing the site of an airstrike to target arriving rescue workers. On 14 August, two medics from the Syrian-American medical society (SAMS), Mohamad Hussni Mishnen and Fadi Alomar, were killed in an airstrike; Younis Balouz, a White Helmets volunteer was killed in a second strike as he tried to rescue them.
“The regime and Russia are not only using weapons and destruction, they are waging a psychological war against civilians,” says Raed Al Saleh, head of the White Helmets. “They started by destroying hospitals and medical facilities, then our civil defense centres, then schools. They want to destroy all aspects of daily life so they break civilians’ resistance and leave them with no choice other than fleeing because there’s no way they can live in these areas.”
The constant airstrikes have driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes with many camped out along the Syrian-Turkish border away from the worst of the bombing. These people lack shelter, adequate food, water and medical supplies, and aid organisations say they are struggling to care for them all.
“The UN Security Council has a responsibility to protect civilians and give Syrians answers about why hospitals and schools are being targeted,” says Laila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign. “We hold the UNSC accountable for the lives of humanitarian workers and civilians that are lost. We wait for them to tell us why Putin is not being questioned for using internationally banned weapons such as barrel bombs.
“The fate of more than three million civilians is at risk, while the whole world watches. Syrians in Idlib have been displaced multiple times, many of them fled there from other parts of the country. They’ve barely started to build new lives and now Assad and Putin are pushing them out yet again. We want answers as to why this is being allowed and not questioned by the UNSC.”