A nurse was killed and a doctor and driver were seriously injured on Monday as a result of a guided rocket attack by Syrian regime forces on a car carrying a medical team on a road connecting Benish and Taftanaz in the Idlib countryside.
Since the beginning of October, cities and towns in northwestern Syria have witnessed a military escalation by Syrian government forces and Russia, the most intense in nearly three years. Over 65 civilians, including more than 20 children and 10 women, have been killed and more than 265 civilians, including 80 children and 45 women, have been injured, according to a Syrian volunteer emergency rescue group.
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The Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said on Saturday that the aerial and artillery attacks carried out in the region by Russia and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad involved the use of internationally prohibited incendiary and cluster weapons.
“Our teams responded to over 250 attacks on 70 cities and towns in northwestern Syria until October 28th,” said Ahmed Yazji, a board member of Syria Civil Defence.
Yazji told Al Jazeera that the attacks focused on residential neighbourhoods and public facilities and targeted four civil defence centres, 13 schools, seven hospitals and medical centres, five displacement camps, and five popular markets.
“This serious escalation threatens the lives of civilians, imposes a state of instability, and creates a new wave of displacement, further deepening the long-standing tragedy of more than 12 years, undermining the education process, and the livelihoods and recovery of communities that have not yet recovered from the devastating earthquake that struck the region on February 6th of this year,” Yazji added.
The attacks by the Syrian government and its ally Russia have resulted in a new wave of displacement for residents in the areas under attack, including the cities of Idlib, Ariha, Jisr al-Shughour, Sarmin, and Darat Izza, as well as towns in Jabal Zawiya and western Idlib.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that northwest Syria is home to 4.5 million people, including 1.9 million living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
OCHA also reported that the recent escalation in northwest Syria has displaced more than 12,000 civilians from their cities and villages to makeshift reception centres.
“Even though it’s been 10 days since we left our village, we still fear the continuous shelling we endured while trapped in our homes and unable to leave,” said Fadia Qassum, a 50-year-old mother of four from the village of Mintaaf in Jabal Zawiya, south of Idlib.
Qassum told Al Jazeera that one of her neighbours was killed when a rocket hit her house. This prompted a fearful Qassum to leave her own home and relocate to one of the nearby caves, which are considered safer than homes.
“I will never forget that night when we couldn’t sleep, watching over our sleeping children, afraid of scorpions or snakes in the cave, before we could leave the village at 5am to go to the shelter centre near the town of Ma’arrat Misrin,” Qassum said.
“We left our village in search of a safe place, but today there is no safe place left because the shelling also targets displacement camps,” Qassum added.
On October 24, Russian warplanes targeted the Ahl Saraqib IDP camp on the outskirts of the town of al-Hamamah in western Idlib. This resulted in the deaths of two infants and three women, and injured five other civilians, including two children.
“Are there more crimes to be committed against us? How long will the world remain silent about the crimes of Assad and Russia against us?” asked Inad al-Aliwi, a 37-year-old who lost his mother and four of his relatives.
In 2017 al-Aliwi was displaced from the Sahl al-Ghab area in northern Hama to the city of Saraqib in Idlib. In 2020, he was forced to flee again to the Ahl Saraqib camp after Syrian government forces took control of Saraqib.
“After we left Saraqib, our family and relatives, consisting of 40 families, decided to live in one camp to alleviate the sense of estrangement from our village and support each other. We didn’t know that this would anger the criminal Bashar al-Assad,” al-Aliwi said.
“After losing five members of our family, we now separate today without knowing where to go because there is no safe place to seek refuge,” he added.
Ceasefire contingent on interests
Idlib, the last province controlled by opposition fighters in Syria, is governed by a March 5, 2020 ceasefire agreement between Turkey and Russia. However, this agreement is occasionally violated by Syrian government forces.
“The tragic situation in Idlib today is a reflection of regional and international confrontations, conflicts of interests between external actors in the Syrian issue, who use local parties and the internal arena to achieve their interests in matters that are mostly not directly related to the Syrian issue,” said Wael Alwan, a Syrian affairs specialist at the Jusoor Center for Studies, an independent research centre.
Alwan told Al Jazeera that there is currently no indication that the map of areas of influence and tension will change through a military operation by the Assad regime in the region.
However, aerial and artillery shelling is being used to create chaos and waves of threats of displacement and internal displacement, which Russia and Iran desperately need in negotiations with key actors in the Syrian conflict.
“The inhumane issue is being used terribly at the negotiating table, and it does not require extensive ground operations but different pretexts, such as escalating air strikes and creating pressure at the internal social and humanitarian levels,” Alwan said.