Syrian American Council Calls for Urgent Action to Halt Massive Displacement of Civilians Underway in Syria’s Idlib
Tens of thousands flee for border with Turkey as Assad regime forces overrun Maarat al-Numan, Idlib’s second largest city
WASHINGTON D.C., January 29, 2020 – Despite a ceasefire announced by Russia earlier this month, civilians in Idlib province, Syria’s largest haven of internally displaced persons (IDPs), are on the run again as Russian-led Syrian forces press a ferocious campaign to overtake the northwestern province. Swelling an already large IDP population struggling with extreme cold and winter weather in the border area, the recent mass exodus was prompted by a scorched-earth blitzkrieg on large population centers such as Maarat al-Numan, the second-largest city in Idlib. Now a ghost town in ruins, Maarat al-Numan, once a hub for peaceful anti-Assad regime demonstrations and the site of the longest-running protest against the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria, was reportedly captured by regime forces last night.
At least four massacres have been committed by Russian-led forces since an announced ceasefire went into effect on January 11, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights and first-hand reports the Syrian American Council received from rescue workers on the ground.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted on January 28 that “some 26 communities in [Idlib] were affected by airstrikes, including schools, hospitals, [and] camps for internally displaced people (IDPs)” and expressed grave concern for the fate of the northwestern region where more than 4 million civilians reside.
“We appreciate Secretary Pompeo’s highlighting of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Idlib in his statement issued Monday, but concern alone will do little to protect vulnerable civilians on the run, especially as they flee to closed borders,” said Dr. Zaki Lababidi, president of the Syrian American Council. “This latest episode of intense bombardment and mass displacement confirms what has already been established dozens of times – that the regime and its backers will never honor an agreement so long as they can violate it with impunity.”
Responding to Secretary Pompeo’s remarks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow is fully behind President Bashar al-Assad's offensive into Idlib.
The violence in Idlib was reportedly discussed by President Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in a phone call on January 27, where the two leaders “agreed that the violence being carried out in Idlib, Syria must stop.”
“The express desire of our commander-in-chief must now be enforced,” Dr. Lababidi said. “We are calling on the Trump administration, with the support of the U.S. Congress, to coordinate with Turkey and our European allies to stop the slaughter of civilians in Idlib and to ensure that safe return home is possible.”
Michelle R. Taylor