Weedah Hamzah –
Abu Zuheir, a blind man, left Aleppo with his family in 2016 while it was under siege by the Syrian government. He though he was bringing them to safety in the north-western province of Idlib.
But since April, the province has been under attack by the government of President Bashar al Assad and its Russian allies, leaving Abu Zuheir’s family of 12 at risk again.
“I was wrong when I thought we would be safe here — now there is no place in Idlib which is safe,” said the man, who provides for his family by selling candy the streets of Idlib city with his 8-year-old daughter. The 47-year-old feels stuck. He has been displaced several times: from Aleppo city to the countryside surrounding it, then to Maaretal-Numaan city in Idlib province before ending up in Idlib city. He cannot afford to move again.
The government offensive is targeting Idlib and areas in the province of Hama, the last major opposition stronghold in the country. The area is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al Sham, an alliance led by an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, but the region also has other rebel groups backed by Turkey.
Many rebels and their families were moved to Idlib in recent years during Russia-sponsored deals carried out as the government seized most areas in southern and central Syria from rebels, who have been fighting to oust the government since 2011.
The offensive has sparked a new of wave of displacement in north-western Syria. It also ended months of calm in the area, which followed a deal in September between Russia and Syria’s neighbour, Turkey, to establish a demilitarised bufferzone in Syria.
“The ‘de-escalation zone’ has fast become one of most dangerous places in the world for civilians and aid workers today,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Some 3 million people — 1.4 million of whom are already displaced — remain trapped in the crossfire,” Swanson said.
More than 400,000 people have been displaced in north-western Syria since April. Some of them have been displaced up to 10 times. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the offensive has so far killed 2,721 people, including 809 civilians. Ahmed Ali Daham has been displaced five times. When the offensive started he was in Maaret al Numaan, but fled after it was badly hit two months ago. He is a volunteer with the White Helmets, a first responder group that operates in rebel-held areas.
“No one and no place is safe… all of us live minute by minute,” he said by phone, adding that he moved his family to areas near the Syrian-Turkish border to protect them. — dpa