Relentless bombing and ‘constant death’: A bleak start to 2024 for Syria

Syrians in the northwest see in the new year just as they left the last – ‘with blood’ and destruction.

A man sitting on the sidewalk was overcome with emotion at the sight of the blood of his relative who was killed in one of the neighborhoods of Darat Azza in the western countryside of Aleppo
A man is overcome with emotion at the sight of the blood of his elderly relative who was killed while bringing breakfast home during the January 1 bombing of Darat Izza in the western countryside of Aleppo [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Idlib, northwestern Syria – Shaher Masri and his family heard bombs near their home shortly after noon prayers on the first day of the new year.

The Syrian regime and its Russian allies had allowed no pause for the holidays, this time bombing a bakery a few metres from the house Masri, 29, his wife and four children have been living in for the past four years in the village of Jakid al-Adas, near Darat Izza in northwestern Syria.

“I’ve never seen something more horrible. When we ventured out we found a man who had died while buying bread and breakfast for his family,” Masri told Al Jazeera.

Children in Syria
Two children look at blood and food on the ground, the only thing left of a man who was walking home with breakfast for his family and was killed by a bomb in Darat Izza, northwestern Syria [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

That afternoon, artillery hit the town repeatedly, frightening civilians and damaging buildings, including a bakery, a mosque, a market and an electricity facility.

The attack was part of a general assault on the villages of Darat Izza, Kabashin and Burj Haidar in the countryside west of Aleppo, which killed six people and injured 11 more, including four children, a baby and two women.

It followed the bombing of the city of Idlib the previous day and Israeli air raids on the Aleppo and Neirab airports, as well as several points belonging to the Syrian regime south of Aleppo, on Saturday.

Nada al-Rashed, a director of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), told Al Jazeera Syrians had welcomed the new year with the same motif they had bid the last one farewell: “with bloodshed”.

Masri and his family, who are originally from Jakid al-Adas in the Aleppo governorate, have already been displaced several times within northwestern Syria. They will not move again, despite the repeated bombing of Darat Izza –  there is little point they say.

But Masri remains hopeful. “We hope to get rid of [Syrian president] Assad in our new year,” he said.

A child looks warily at the street from the window of his house, where he is hiding from the repeated bombing by regime forces on Darat Azza in the western countryside of Aleppo on the first day of 2024.
A child looks warily out of a window. He is hiding indoors from the regime’s repeated bombing of Darat Izza, on January 1, 2024 [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Targeting civilians

The regime aims to destabilise the population by taking out civilian infrastructure, al-Rashed said. “The absence of accountability and the impunity for the crimes committed by the Syrian regime is what gave it the green light to continue its attacks without deterrence.”

Yahya Sheikh Mohammed, 30, the nephew of the man killed near the bakery, told Al Jazeera he feels like he is living “in the midst of constant death”.

He had rushed out to the street after the bombing to retrieve his aunt’s husband’s body, Mohammed said.

“We found another dead person as we were transporting the old man.”

By staging these attacks, the Syrian regime is hoping to drive a wedge between the northern Aleppo countryside – controlled by Turkey – and Idlib and the western countryside of Aleppo – under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, allied to the Syrian opposition government and classified as “terrorist” by the regime – Mustafa al-Naimi, a journalist based in Turkey, told Al Jazeera.

Civilians bid farewell to their relatives killed in regime forces’ bombing on Darat Azza in the western countryside of Aleppo during the first day of 2024
Two men bid farewell to a relative killed in the New Year’s Day bombing of Darat Izza [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

“Under the pretext of ‘terrorism’, Idlib governorate continues to be exposed to artillery and missile bombardment as well as air strikes,” said al-Naimi, who is also a researcher at the Arab Forum for Analyzing Iranian Policies.

He added that the military operations also prevented people living there from feeling safe and scared away any investment, which has added to Idlib’s deep economic stagnation.

More than 90 percent of people in the region live in poverty and are reliant on international aid. However, the arrival of aid was severely restricted last July by Russia vetoing a UN Security Council vote on renewing a cross-border aid mechanism through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.

The regime may also be venting its anger about being unable to respond to Israel’s bombing of Iranian sites by striking either Israel or the United States bases east of the Euphrates, al-Naimi added.

shrapnel damage, Syria
Damage caused by shrapnel from a regime forces shell on a wall bearing the phrase ‘If you cannot speak the truth do not applaud falsehood’ in Darat Izza in the western countryside of Aleppo [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

‘Stronger than ever’ – opposition leader

The northwestern region of Syria has been subject to a ceasefire agreement brokered in 2020 with the assistance of Russia and Turkey. Still, the regime and its allied forces have repeatedly violated this agreement – on at least 1,200 occasions over the past year alone, according to the White Helmets.

Al-Naimi said opposition factions controlling the northwest may not have the military capacity to mount a strong enough defence against the bombings.

Opposition leaders remain defiant, however.

“Our options are open and we have the ability to respond to the attacks,” Khattab al-Shami, the military commander of the al-Fatah al-Mubin grouping of opposition factions, told Al Jazeera.

“Today we are stronger than ever and we possess military capabilities and initiative, while our enemy lost it years ago,” said al-Shami. “The liberation battle is coming, God willing, and everything happening today is a foreword to it.”

He disagreed that the Syrian regime’s bombing was aimed at separating northwestern Syria, pointing out that the bombing had targeted areas under Turkish control, including Afrin in the countryside around Aleppo.

Two men stand on the shattered glass to see the damage suffered by a bakery not 10 meters away from where a regime forces shell fell on Darat Azza in the western countryside of Aleppo
Two men inspect the damage to a bakery hit by regime forces in Darat Izza [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

He feels that the regime’s escalation over the past four months has been “an attempt to restore stolen sovereignty” after being bombed several times by Israel.

Keeping people living outside its control in a constant state of displacement and fear is the regime’s way of exacting “revenge on them while increasing their suffering during the winter”.

Targeting civilian infrastructure is also a way to divert attention from the fact that the regime is unable to secure the needs of the population living in areas under its control, al-Shami said.

“It is escalating the bombing on the liberated area in order to hide the very major economic, political and social problems that its areas are suffering from.”

Source: Al Jazeera