In the Syrian Idlib region, "we are approaching the breaking point"

A Syrian family flees attacks by pro-regime forces in the northern town of Abin Semaan on February 12.
A Syrian family flees attacks by pro-regime forces in the northern town of Abin Semaan on February 12. IBRAHIM YASOUF / AFP

Idlib, the yawning plague in northwestern Syria, continues to bleed. Subjected for a year and a half to the blows of the Syrian regime and its Russian ally, this region, the last stronghold of the insurgency, is the scene of a humanitarian crisis of disproportionate proportions. "This is the biggest displacement of the worst war of our generation", The Norwegian Refugee Council chief Jan Egeland was moved on Wednesday 12 February.

The bombings to which this territory is subjected, to varying degrees, since the fall of 2018, intensified in December 2019. This deluge of bombs and shells threw 700,000 people on the roads, according to the UN, just over one in four of the rebel pocket, controlled by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir Al-Cham. The pace of the exodus has accelerated in the past two weeks, due to the advance of loyalist troops, who have regained control of the M5 motorway, a strategic axis, connecting Damascus to Aleppo.

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The images shot by the few NGOs that still operate in the region show lines of vehicles, rolling at a pace, as far as the eye can see, the roof covered with mattresses, blankets and carpets. As the tented camps along the Turkish border have been overcrowded for a long time, the newly displaced have no choice but to sleep in their car or truck, or, for those who still have some money , in a makeshift home, rented at a high price.

"There are no words to describe what we are going through, says Souhaïb Assoufi, a young father, reached by WhatsApp in the city of Idlib. I have been forced to flee the regime’s repression four times since 2011. I’m preparing for my fifth forced displacement. It will be the hardest. We are short of money, medicine and food. I’m dreaming of finding a place in a tent. "

"The regime destroys everything"

The freezing winter in Idlib province, with a thermometer dropping to -11 ° C, snow in places and strong gusts of wind, adds to the plight of the Syrians. To keep warm, war survivors burn whatever comes in hand, tires, clothes or plastic bags. Desperate actions that claimed the lives of four members of the same family on Monday in a camp near Killi, north of Idlib. According to a source on the spot, the father, his wife and their two children died by suffocation, in their sleep, after having burned pieces of coal in their tent.

Air strikes and artillery fire in the region have killed around 200 civilians since the start of the year, the UN said. On February 3, nine passengers in a van traveling west of Aleppo, including three women and four children, were killed in a strike. According to the World Health Organization’s accounts, 72 hospitals, clinics and dispensaries have had to suspend operations since December, either after being targeted or for fear of being targeted.

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"The regime destroys everything that can help us continue to live, protested Nagib Bakour, a head of the white helmets, the organization of rescuers who operate in areas held by the rebellion. We try as much as we can to support the people, but we feel that the whole world has abandoned us. "

A western aid official, wishing to remain anonymous, confirms the diagnosis. "Everything that Syrian society has managed to maintain in recent years in the areas of education and health is falling apart. It’s panic, the general save-may. It’s not even possible to distribute aid in the field anymore, because our local referents have disappeared and it would be a riot. We are approaching the breaking point of the population's resilience mechanisms. "

Rebel factions respond to the offensive of pro-government troops with rocket and mortar fire on the city of Aleppo, which the regime recaptured in December 2016. According to the UN, these actions have killed 27 civilians since the beginning of the year.

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