Tue, 23 Apr 2019

Civilians in Idlib flee deadly assault by Russia and Syria

By Sheetal Sukhija, Southeast Asia News
11 Sep 2018, 15:25 GMT+10

DAMASCUS, Syria - An uprising that was born out of frustrations over the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's authoritarian style of government, turned into a deadly civil unrest that gave the world its worst humanitarian crisis ever.

Now, as the seven-year-old war seems to be coming to a close, the world watches uneasily as it is faced with a much more dangerous prospect - the worst humanitarian crisis in 100 long years.

After laying out battle plans to reclaim the last major stronghold of active opposition to his government, Assad, backed by close allies - Russia and Iran, launched the first phase of attacks in Idlib last week.

The bombing campaign by Russian and Syrian warplanes were said to have targetted Idlib and adjacent areas of northwest Syria.

Rebels from within the city - which has become one of the worlds densest enclaves of internally displaced people - put out updates, giving details of the strikes launched, the casualties in a bid to draw global attention about their plight.

Earlier this week, rebels and war monitoring groups said that medical facilities were targetted in the attacks that persisted over the weekend.

However, even before Assad and the Russian President Vladimir Putin could implement their plans to launch a deadly offensive on the strategically crucial northwestern province - the United Nations had warned that the battle for Idlib could displace over 700,000 people.

Yet, for Assad, capturing Idlib would mark a crucial final stage in his ambitions to put down the rebellion that broke out seven years back.

At the same time, it was set to be one of the most complex assaults for government forces - since Idlib is home to 2.5 million civilians, most of whom were displaced from other areas.

The Syrian government and allied forces, however, resumed air and ground bombardments in Idlib last week.

Thousands uprooted

This week, the UN agency that is coordinating relief efforts has pointed out that within a week since Assad launched the deadly offensive in Idlib - over 30,000 civilians from the province have already been displaced.

In a warning, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated that an all-out military assault on the province could set 800,000 of the 2.9 million people in Idlib, to flight.

Mark Lowcock, the OCHA chief has warned that this risked provoking the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st Century.

Addressing a news briefing in Geneva, Lowcock pointed out, We are very actively preparing for the possibility that civilians move in huge numbers in multiple directions. There needs to be ways of dealing with this problem that dont turn the next few months in Idlib into the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life of the 21st Century."

Meanwhile, in a separate statement, OCHA spokesman David Swanson said that until Sunday, 30,542 people had been displaced from northwest Syria.

These thousands of civilians were said to be moving to different areas across Idlib.

Further, Swanson pointed out that since a summit held by the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would delay the deadly offensive - mortar and rocket attacks have increased across the province.

He pointed out that the attacks were especially deadly in the northern Hama countryside and southern Idlib rural areas.

The OCHA spokesman added that 47 percent of those displaced have moved to camps, 29 percent are staying with families, 14 percent have settled in informal camps and 10 percent are in rented accommodation.

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