Recent Developments in Northwest Syria – Flash Update No. 8 – As of 20 February 2020

Syria

OCHA – Syria
Recent Developments in Northwest Syria – Flash Update No. 8 – As of 20 February 2020
[Editor’s text bolding]
Highlights
:: The humanitarian crisis for people in northwest Syria continues to reach new and dire levels. Some 900,000 people have been displaced since 1 December, exceeding worst case planning figures by the humanitarian community.
:: Indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas continue to drive people from their homes and destroy vital services, including hospitals, markets, and schools. Cold weather has made the situation worse.
:: The frontlines in northwest Syria are rapidly moving closer to densely populated areas, with bombardments increasingly affecting IDP sites and their vicinity.

SITUATION OVERVIEW
The humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria has reached a horrifying level with almost 900,000 people displaced since 1 December. The majority of women, men, girls and boys who fled their homes to escape indiscriminate attacks moved to northwestern Idleb governorate, a small area already hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The entire population of the Idleb area, estimated at 3 million people prior to the latest wave of violence, is increasingly concentrated in this small area along the Turkey-Syria border with no other place to go to find safety.

Since 1 December, some 300 communities changed control, rapidly bringing the frontlines closer to areas that are densely populated. People from those communities are those who fled. Places previously considered safe by civilians are now coming under fire. On 14 and 15 February, one person was killed, and many others were injured when two IDP sites were hit in Dana sub-district. These locations received some 267,000 displaced people recently and was home to more than 712,000 people prior to the latest wave of violence. Nevertheless, people from areas such as Atareb and Daret Azza, now at the frontlines, continue to flee further into northwest Idleb and northern Aleppo governorates as heavy bombardment impact their communities. According to OHCHR, some 300 people were killed in Idleb and Aleppo due to hostilities from 1 January to 18 February, many of them women and children.

Some 330,000 of the almost 900,000 people who displaced since 1 December fled to areas in northern Aleppo governorate such as Afrin, A’zaz and Al Bab. However, the freedom of movement of civilians from Idleb to northern Aleppo is increasingly at threat. As bombardment extended to the Daret Azza area, the roads leading to one of the two crossings between the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate reportedly came under fire, making it extremely dangerous for civilians to move via this route. Despite the announcement of two additional crossings between areas controlled by non-state armed groups and the Government of Syria opening near Mezanaz and Saraqab, and the relative decline of military activity in proximity of two others in Abu Thohur and al Hader, there is no information that people used these crossings to leave the Idleb area.

Nonetheless, some 1,040 people reportedly moved from the Idleb area to areas under the control of the Government of Syria since 1 December, Humanitarian actors are increasing their readiness for potential further movement of people. Some 1,000 people recently displaced from northwest Syria, reportedly arrived in Ar-Raqqa city where they are receiving assistance at collective shelters.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Idleb area is susceptible to the impact of military activity. Humanitarian transshipments via the Bab al Hawa crossing that provides a lifeline to Idleb were suspended temporarily on 11 February when hostilities intensified. Regular transshipments resumed the following day, truck drivers from inside the Idleb area were reticent to separate from their families given the volatility of the situation. Prior to the most recent wave of violence and displacement, an estimated 1.9 million people were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in the Idleb area.

Indiscriminate attacks continue to damage or destroy vital civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. On 17 February, two hospitals in Daret Azza town were reportedly damaged by airstrikes and put out of service. These hospitals providing some 14,000 outpatient consultations, facilities for hundreds of safe deliveries, surgeries and hemodialysis sessions. According to OHCHR, 10 medical facilities and 19 educational facilities were either directly hit or affected by strikes close by since 1 January in northwest Syria.

Harsh winter conditions further aggravate the suffering of these vulnerable people who fled their homes to escape the violence, most of whom have been displaced multiple times over nine years of conflict. Almost 170,000 of those newly displaced people are estimated to be living in the open or in unfinished buildings while some 284,000 are staying in camps already over-stretched beyond capacity or in makeshift camps where they set up individual tents with no basic services such as latrines. Many people have resorted to burning whatever they can spare such as extra clothes, pieces of furniture or materials they scavenged that let out toxic fumes.

In light of the scale of this dire humanitarian situation, humanitarian actors on the ground continue to leverage all efforts to scale up. However, people’s needs are so vast, with the current resources it is a struggle to meet their needs which grow exponentially despite all humanitarian efforts. As people’s humanitarian needs becoming more severe by the hour, humanitarian workers, who are the backbones of the emergency response, are displaced themselves with their families and struggle to support their loved ones. Many humanitarian NGOs had to leave behind equipment as they displaced with the people they were supporting. Humanitarian assets, warehouses and offices were left behind. Humanitarian activities planned in areas which changed control or close to the frontlines can no longer be carried out.

Some $30 million USD has been dispersed by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the emergency, and an additional emergency allocation of $40 million USD from the Syria Cross-Border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is under process. The humanitarian community estimated that $336 million USD was needed to support some 800,000 people until July 2020 to meet the needs. This inter-cluster plan is under revision as more people are now affected.

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A shameful response to the tragedy of Idlib
Financial Times – Editorial
Friday, 21 Feb 2020

What the UN describes as the worst humanitarian catastrophe of Syria’s nine-year-old civil war is unfolding in Idlib. The north-western province is the last redoubt of the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has launched a vicious offensive to recapture it, backed by Russian warplanes and Iranian-supplied fighters.

Roughly 1m people, a third of Idlib’s population — half of whom have been displaced several times already — are fleeing from a campaign of terror that deliberately targets civilians.

Turkey, which has 12 military “observation posts” in Idlib as part of a “de-escalation” accord with Russia in 2018, and has lost troops to regime shelling in recent weeks, is poised to go on the offensive against the Assads. That will not only set Ankara on a collision course with Moscow but aggravate the already appalling conditions Idlib’s people are enduring.

Syria’s pitiless conflict has killed half a million people. It has displaced half the prewar population of 22m, about 6m of them abroad. This new wave of refugees, pressed up against the Turkish frontier to the west and crammed into two north-west Syrian enclaves Turkey seized in 2016 and 2018, is set to become the biggest of the war.

That risks reviving Europe’s 2015-16 “migrant” crisis that turbocharged populist xenophobia. Russia is well aware of this, using it as leverage to frighten the EU into reconciling with Assad rule and stumping up funds to resurrect Syria from the rubble. Turkey is already host to 3.6m Syrian refugees, and part-subsidised by the EU to keep them. It periodically threatens to reopen routes north into Europe for fleeing Syrians — unless it wins support for the buffer zone it is building across northern Syria against the Kurds.

Idlib distils every intractable element that deterred the US and Europe from backing an initially broad-based rebellion against tyranny, before it was hijacked by jihadi extremists.

There are some 20,000 jihadi fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Idlib. But there are also 3m civilians. They have run out of places to run to, and their children are freezing to death in sub-zero temperatures. They face the bombing of hospitals and schools, markets and bakeries — the war criminal’s handbook the Assad regime and its patrons have written in blood. Syrian and Russian air forces have destroyed more than 50 medical facilities in Idlib, such that doctors have stopped providing the coordinates that were supposed to protect them and have, in some cases literally, gone underground.

Idlib, one of the first cities to rise up against the Assads, has been a pivot of a horrendous war that has saved the worst for last. The regime and its sponsors always intended to make it the final killing field in this catalogue of horror. The strategic logic of the Idlib offensive — to recapture two arterial highways from Damascus to Aleppo and from the coast to the east — pales alongside the primeval urge to liquidate all opposition. It should be remembered that when Russia came to the Assads’ rescue in 2015, it did not go after Isis or al-Qaeda. It relentlessly targeted mainstream rebels.

Western response to the tragedy is shameful. Russia has used its veto at the UN Security Council to shield Syria 14 times in 2011-19, often backed by China. But the US is an onlooker and Europe nowhere to be seen. The west has things that Russia (and Iran) want, including relief from sanctions and help to rebuild Syria. President Vladimir Putin needs to be confronted — with the evidence of Russia’s war crimes — before Idlib turns into a bloodbath and more millions of helpless Syrians are scattered to the winds