Children killed in Syria’s Idlib amid displacement crisis

Russian-backed Syrian government forces launch attacks on villages in southern Idlib, activists and residents say.

Pro-al-Assad forces are seeking to take control of strategically located Jabal al-Zawiya, making it easier for them to oversee the opening of the M4 highway [Ali Hajj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Russian-backed government forces have targeted the village of Kansfara, south of Idlib province, killing four children in a series of attacks on the rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria.

The children’s mother survived with her baby during the attack. Her husband was tending sheep near the village, and rushed to his wife after hearing the sound of the attack on Friday to find his children had been crushed under the rubble of his house.

Attacks that hit another house resulted in the injury of three civilian farm workers, and two other children were wounded as a result of artillery fire that targeted western Aleppo province, bordering Idlib.

The incident came a day after another attack killed five children [Ali Hajj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

The two children were visiting the grave of their father in the village of Kafr Naha, west of Aleppo province. One of them, an eight year old, was taken to a Turkish hospital.

“There was a Russian military reconnaissance plane since five in the morning in the skies of Kansafra, and after half an hour the attack began,” Mustafa al-Hussein, an activist living in the village, told Al Jazeera.

“We rushed to the scene of the attack on foot for fear of reconnaissance aircraft. We arrived too late, we found the children turned to pieces between the ruins,” he added.

Laser missile attacks known as “Krasnopol” have recently been a common method to strike southern Idlib, where reconnaissance planes give precise coordinates to launch rocket attacks.

Continuing strikes

The attacks came a day after five children were killed south of Idlib as a result of similar strikes, followed by Russian air raids on the village of Ein Shib, west of Idlib city.

On Wednesday, three civilians, including a child, were killed in rocket attacks targeting Turkish-controlled Afrin north of Aleppo, which is connected to Idlib province.

The attack on Afrin was launched from areas under the control of the government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a predominantly Kurdish force and receives military support from the US-led international coalition.

Russian media reported the attacks targeted opposition fighters, although civilians in Idlib disagreed. The Sputnik news agency said 35 members of the Group of Hurras al-Din, the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda, were killed.

“We are being bombed on a daily basis. Yesterday’s attacks targeting civilians turned children to pieces and today they killed other children and turned them into pieces,” Ahmed al-Mustafa, a civilian living in the village, told Al Jazeera.

Mourners pray in the village of Kansfara after the Russian-backed attack [Ali Hajj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Mustafa spoke via WhatsApp audio clips and said he was sheltering with his children in one of the rooms of the house, as the village south of Idlib was hit by another new rocket strike.

“There are no military headquarters in our villages, we are all civilians. People are trying to find a livelihood on agricultural land,” he added.

In southern Idlib, some civilians usually leave their homes around 5am to head to surrounding farms to avoid attacks, but they have started earlier.

“We cannot be displaced from the village because of living conditions and the lack of any livelihood among the overcrowded camps north of Idlib,” Mustafa said.

Displacement crisis

The village of Kansfara and the surrounding villages are part of Jabal al-Zawiya, south of Idlib province, whose population depends mainly on agriculture, especially olives.

The province now has about five million civilians, half of them displaced from areas around Idlib that government forces have controlled with Russian support after more than 10 years of a grinding war.

The United Nations estimates the number of displaced people in northwestern Syria at 2.8 million, including 1.7 million living in tents. Military operations early last year resulted in the displacement of nearly one million civilians towards the Syrian-Turkish border, putting pressure on Turkey.

Military operations stopped in March of last year under a ceasefire deal reached by Moscow, an ally of Syrian government forces, and Ankara, an ally of the rebels.

Since then, Ankara has deployed its military towards Idlib to prevent the collapse of the ceasefire and to spare Turkey, which has about four million Syrian refugees, a new wave of displaced people.

According to Jusoor for Studies, a study centre based in Turkey, Turkey has 119 military bases in northern Syria, while Russia and Iran operate 367 installations in Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

No solutions

Pro-al-Assad forces are seeking to take control of strategically located Jabal al-Zawiya, making it easier for them to oversee the opening of the M4 highway south of Idlib to commercial traffic between the government-controlled city of Aleppo and Latakia.

This leaves IDP camps on the Syrian-Turkish border extremely overcrowded and causes displaced people to suffer constantly, as their tents sink in winter rains and freeze because of the cold, while facing high temperatures during the summer.

The civil defence team known as the White Helmets rushed to put out a fire that devoured about 20 tents in the Samdoun camp west of Idlib on Thursday.

A fire that broke out after a gas leak in the Samdoun camp near the Syria-Turkey border [Syrian Civil Defence]

The fire left dozens of civilians homeless and living in the open after it started because of a gas leak.

“The only solution for the displaced civilians is to return to their homes after the international parties pledged to guarantee a ceasefire and stop the bombing,” Firas Khalifa, a White Helmets spokesman based in Idlib, told Al Jazeera.

“Russia and the Syrian regime must be obligated to stop military operations, in addition to ensuring the safe return of displaced civilians to alleviate the camps’ crisis,” he added.

“Attacks target civilians on a daily basis. Since the beginning of this year, three civil defence volunteers have been killed while searching for survivors under the rubble, and about 11 others wounded.”

Source: Al Jazeera