The Syrian regime continued its attacks in Idlib on Sunday after a third cease-fire trial. Even though no one was killed, the fact that 17 people died in airstrikes just before the truce entered into force and two previous attempts at a cease-fire failed, raised doubts over its longevity.
According to local sources speaking to Anadolu Agency, the Bashar Assad regime and its backers have from time to time carried out attacks after midnight, when the cease-fire went into force. Regime forces targeted the Maarat al-Numan district with light and heavy arms after 2 a.m. while the violations continued until the evening.
“Syrian regime forces violated the cease-fire agreed upon by Russia and Turkey on Sunday, Jan. 12, and bombed with heavy artillery and rocket launchers the cities and towns of the southern and eastern Idlib countryside. This morning, they targeted the city of Maarat al-Numan, Maarashmasha and Hatanoutin towns in Idlib's eastern countryside,” the White Helmets civil defense group said in a written statement on Sunday, adding that this was a clear violation of the cease-fire even though no one was killed.
Furthermore, at least 17 civilians were killed and more than 40 others were injured in airstrikes carried out by the Assad regime in the de-escalation zone on the eve of the truce, just less than 24 hours before it went into effect, causing another humanitarian disaster and raising doubts whether the third attempt would hold.
Civil defense teams launched search and rescue efforts following the airstrikes. Families have been striving to find the dead bodies of their relatives and children amid the debris. One family had lost three of their children during the attack and tried to retrieve the bodies. The three girls that lost their lives were 2, 3 and 5-years-old. The father buried all three in the same grave as he did not want to separate the children.
“Airstrikes took place. I came to see that my daughter’s house was attacked. The children were torn apart,” the grandfather Khaled Abdurrahman stated, adding that only a newborn had survived in the house.
“59 airstrikes, 29 explosive barrels bombs, 36 missiles were launched by regime forces yesterday against civilians, in what appears to be deliberate revenge against the innocent people just hours before a new truce agreed upon by #Turkey and #Russia is to begin,” the White Helmets wrote Sunday evening on Twitter.
“As a result of the recent developments and conflicts, 312,000 people have migrated to places close to our border from Dec.1, 2019 until today. Seventy-six percent of the migrants are women and children. They have come to the nine camps we have established 20 kilometers outside of our border,” Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu stated yesterday.
Speaking at an Idlib help campaign organized by the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Soylu underlined that they have shared this pain since 2011 and that it is Turkey that collects the dead bodies of children from the sea and near the border.
The minister also thanked all aid agencies, including AFAD, the Turkish Res Crescent (Kızılay) and the Diyanet Foundation for providing everything from tents to health services, yet he also highlighted that this is not enough.
Turkey announced Friday that a new cease-fire in Idlib, which has been rocked by violence – although "acts of aggression" are already officially banned – is set to start just after midnight on Sunday, Jan. 12.
Turkey had asked Russia previously for a cease-fire in December, sending a delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal to Moscow as attacks on the de-escalation zone intensified. The Idlib region has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks as forces loyal to the Assad regime, supported by Russian airstrikes, have launched a fresh assault to capture one of the largest urban centers in the area.
Earlier in August, Damascus scrapped a similar truce agreement only three days after it went into effect, accusing opposition forces and terrorists of targeting a Russian air base. Later, toward the end of August, Assad regime ally Russia announced that the Damascus regime forces would observe a new cease-fire in Idlib. It said the truce aimed "to stabilize the situation" in Idlib but the army "reserves the right to respond to violations" by terrorists and allied opposition groups, it added. Yet again, the cease-fire was short-lived as a Russian airstrike was launched on a health facility in Aleppo's western countryside under the same pretexts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported only a few hours before the agreement was to go into effect.
On the other side, it was reported that the Assad regime is forcing civilians in the country's northwest to flee their houses amid a cease-fire there, according to an Anadolu Agency correspondent on the ground on Sunday.
Regime helicopters threw a written statement in the rural areas of northwestern Aleppo province in the Idlib de-escalation zone.
The statement said that there is no return from the decision on clearing Idlib and western Aleppo of "terrorists." It asserted that the presence of civilians prevented the regime forces from fighting "terrorists." Bashar Assad describes all opposition military groups as "terrorist organizations."
Idlib’s tent camps overcrowded with recent migrant wave
The biggest tent camps in Idlib’s rural areas, Atmah and Kah near southern Hatay province, have gotten even more overcrowded with the latest refugee wave caused by the Assad regime’s latest strikes on the de-escalation zone. People who are unable to find a tent for themselves are settling in those of their relatives, making some of the tents home to two to three families.
The two camps that are five to 6 kilometers apart get closer by day due to the crowdedness. These camps are home to around 600,000 people.
Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone, where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone, killing at least 1,300 civilians since the agreement.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to some 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces from throughout the war-weary country.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Idlib province have fled attacks in recent weeks, moving toward the Turkish border as Russian jets and Syrian regime artillery pound towns and villages in a renewed government assault launched last month against opposition forces fighting to oust Assad. During the recent regime offense, more than 300,000 people have been displaced in December alone, according to the U.N.
Civilians can evacuate via new checkpoints, Russia says
Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement late on Sunday that civilians could leave Idlib via three new checkpoints. The ministry said it had received many requests from civilians in Idlib in areas controlled by armed groups to return to their homes in territory controlled by Syrian government forces, according to Reuters.