ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A significant number of civilians continue to flee bombardments ahead of a large-scale military assault by the Syrian government on Idlib.
Idlib, a strategic governorate that borders Turkey and hosts over two million people, is the last major territory still in militant hands.
The United Nations’ humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock,warned Monday that a government assault could create “the worst humanitarian catastrophe” of this century.
According to the UN, the Syrian government assault could displace up to 800,000 people.
“A full-scale military offensive in Idlib would put at risk the lives of more than three million civilians – including one million children – living in the region,” Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN Olof Skoog said in a statement during a UN meeting on behalf of eight EU member states on Thursday.
US President Donald Trump has warned Assad not to attack Idlib recklessly.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
According to the UN, 30,000 people have already fled the Russian and Syrian government bombardments.
“There is huge people emigration from Hama countryside, and some are emigrating from the Idlib countryside,” Mahmoud Abbi, a spokesperson for the Free Idlib Police, told Kurdistan 24.
“The Assad helicopters drop barrel bombs on schools, hospitals, the Civil Defense Centers, and medical clinics in villages and towns in Hama and Idlib’s countryside. As a result, a huge number of people emigrate toward the north,” he added.
The majority of the people are fleeing toward the Turkish border and some to villages and towns in Idlib which are safer, Abbi said.
“There are no deaths, but many injured civilians.”
A White Helmets spokesperson confirmed that Assad’s forces had bombed some areas in Idlib as well as shelled with artillery.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government rejected criticism from Western countries.
“If the West is genuinely concerned about the safety of our civilians in Idlib, then why don’t the EU and US ship away the 10k foreign terrorists the UN talked about?! Then, there will be no need for any military action to get rid of them!” Syrian MP Fares Shehabi wrote on Twitter.
A part of Idlib is held by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), that the US links to al-Qaida, and another part of it is linked to rebels backed by Turkey.
Turkey already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees in its bordersandhas warned that it would not accept anymore or build new camps in Syria for them, Ahval reported.
According to Abbi, Turkey is trying to pressure the “world not to accept the regime and Russian attacks on Idlib.”
Turkey failed to convince Russia and Iran in a meeting on Friday to back a ceasefire in Idlib. Ankara is now increasing its troop presence on the ground in Syria.
“Turkey is enhancing its 12 points in Idlib, and Turkey supports its al-Forat Syrian Army,” Abbi said.
Some analysts say Turkey might increase support to rebels, even providing them with anti-tank missiles.
“Turkey is organizing rebel forces and may redeploy rebel proxies from Afrin and Euphrates Shield areas to fight in Idlib,” Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, told Kurdistan 24.
According to Henri Barkey, a professor of International Relations at Lehigh University, “all it would do is make the carnage bigger.”
“In the end, Assad will get what he wants, and civilians will pay for it,” he told Kurdistan 24.
“For Turkey, though, it may be an important show to the Russians and Syrians that they have to be taken seriously.”
Although no ground offensive has started, people in Idlib expect the worst is yet to come.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany