Syria: thousands flee intensified Idlib offensive

Idlib displaced

More than 235,000 people have fled from their homes in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province over the past days, as the Assad regime and Russia escalate their campaign of aerial bombardment. A report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that Ma’arrat An Nu’man and other towns in the province are now “almost empty,” while internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the extreme northwest of the province are rapidly swelling. “Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected,” the report states. Perversely, the renewed offensive comes days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended cross-border aid convoys into Idlib from Turkey for another year—essentially condemning many of those not directly killed by the bombs to death by starvation and exposure. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, The New Humanitarian, France24)

More than 300,000 had already been displaced by bombardment in Idlib this year before the new escalation, and many of those now fleeing are being displaced for a second or even third time. Nearly half of Idlib’s 3 million people are themselves displaced persons who fled parts of Syria now held by the regime. When the city of Aleppo fell to regime forces after a long siege and months of aerial bombardment almost exactly three years ago, thousands of residents were evacuated to Idlib.

Amid all this comes the incredibly heartening news that new protests have broken out in Nafaa town in Daraa province, once a cradle of the revolution but now controlled by the Assad regime. The demonstrations are protresting both the bombardment of Idlib, and ongoing detentions of those suspected of opposing the regime. (Syria Call)

The protests follow reports that 174 men who had accepted relocation from the Rukban IDP camp in southeast Syria, near the Jordanian border, have been detained. The opposition Syrian Association for Citizen’s Dignity reports that rather than being re-integrated into Syrian sociey, as promised, the men were taken from shelters in Homs and “transferred to ‘terrorism courts’, despite having previously received security clearances from the regime.” (EA Worldview)

The Assad regime has detained hundreds of thousands over the past year, and is accused by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of carrying out a mass “extermination” of prisoners.

Donations for the displaced in Idlib can be made through the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees.

Photo: UNHCR