If the Russian and Syrian military coalition goes ahead with a threatened full scale attack on Idlib, it will be result in a massacre and trigger yet another humanitarian crisis, writes an Al Qalam Reporter.
Established Muslim charities in South Africa are bracing themselves for yet another humanitarian disaster in Syria where so far more than 30 000 terrified residents of Idlib and neighbouring Hama province have fled for their lives to escape aerial bombings by Russian and Syrian jets to flush out the last remaining rebel forces of resistance against Basher al-Assad.
The United Nations estimates that around 800 000 people could be displaced should a full-scale attack be carried out. There are also fears that a chemical attack by Russian and Syrian regime forces is imminent. The US threatened “dire consequences” if the Syrian-Russian coalition used chemical weapons if they continued with relentless airstrikes.
Ahmed Mahmoud, the South African spokesman for Islamic Relief said that airstrikes in Northern Syria against rebel positions have hit populated areas resulting in dozens of casualties.
“A full-on assault on Idlib would be a human tragedy, and possibly one of the worst and deadliest chapters of this devastating almost eight-year conflict.
“Once a large-scale assault begins, we expect to see huge civilian displacement, with anywhere between 200,000 and 700,000 people fleeing in a matter of days, likely pushing further north into an ever shrinking space, he said.”
Mahmoud stressed that people affected by the escalation in the conflict have nowhere else to go. “You look at the faces of children and they look like ghosts. They’re exhausted by years and years of endless war – and many of them have not known any kind of other life. They have lived through it more than any human being should already, and we are deeply concerned that the worst is still to come.
“What we have seen time and again in this brutal crisis is that humanitarian infrastructure especially health facilities are hit first in an attempt to terrify the civilian population. We can expect that mosques, schools, markets and hospitals – anywhere where people gather – will be hit first in case of an assault,” he added.
Islamic Relief hopes that all parties will respect international humanitarian and human rights laws by not targeting civilians and allowing unrestricted humanitarian access.
“People here feel betrayed and forgotten by the world. They literally have nowhere else to go, and once the bombs and fighting edge closer, they will have nowhere to run to. The international community must not forget the people of Syria and must step up their support at this time of crisis,” Mahmoud said.
He said at this stage Islamic Relief’s team were preparing to respond to the humanitarian emergency. As a priority, they were preparing to send food, shelter and non-food items such as tents, kitchen sets, water and medical supplies. “We believe that crisis-affected families will be in a better position to cope with the hardship of displacement through the provision of essential and appropriate support that meet their basic needs with dignity”, he added.
Meanwhile, Mark Lowcock, UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs said: “There needs to be ways of dealing with this problem that don’t turn the next few months in Idlib into the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life in the 21st century.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the international community to prevent a Syrian government offensive in Syria’s Idlib.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday, Erdogan echoed the UN’s concerns about a potential humanitarian crisis, adding that an attack on the last rebel-held province would affect Turkey, Europe and beyond.
“Not only innocent Syrians, but the entire world stands to pay the price (otherwise),” he said.
Erdogan, who met with his Russian and Iranian counterparts at a summit in Tehran last week, also said Russia and Iran had a responsibility to stop a potential humanitarian disaster in Idlib.
The summit in Tehran between the three sides did not produce any agreement, as Iran and Russia rejected Turkey’s call for a continued ceasefire in the rebel bastion.
Russia and Iran want to eliminate what they call “terrorist groups” in the province neighbouring Turkey. Ankara wants to disarm these groups, while keeping the peace in Idlib.