Since June, regime and Russian military airstrikes on Idlib city in northwest Syria have caused tens of thousands of civilian residents to flee. Today, the rebel-held provincial capital is a “ghost town,” Idlib Provincial Council spokesman Saleem Kheder tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.
Idlib city counted roughly 350,000 civilians before June’s air campaign began. Kheder says a majority of the provincial capital’s residents have fled, a claim supported by other sources on the ground interviewed by Syria Direct, but one that cannot be independently confirmed.
On July 21, the city administration’s Directorate of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, associated with the Victory Army, canceled Friday prayers after seven mosques were reportedly bombed by Russian warplanes. After that bombing wave, residents fled “to farms and villages in the countryside,” Kheder says, where they are “cut off from all essentials, water and electricity.”
Syrian Civil Defense workers search for wounded under rubble outside Idlib on July 15. Photo Courtesy of Syria Civil Defense.
The Idlib Provincial Council lacks “70 percent of the necessary aid,” with no “aid warehouses to store aid in for humanitarian emergencies,” Saleem Kheder tells Syria Direct.
Q: Where did the civilians who fled Idlib city go?
A large percentage went to farms and villages in the countryside surrounding Idlib city.
Frankly, people don’t know where to go. There is no safe place since Russia is now carrying out its war with cluster munitions [Ed.: Human Rights Watch documented in a report last week 47 cluster munitions attacks since Russia’s intervention, although it states there have likely been far more].
This forced me to go with my family into hiding. At the moment I’m talking to you from a shelter.
Q: What are conditions like for the newly displaced?
It’s incredibly difficult. They are cut off from all essentials, water and electricity. We are attempting to get water to them.
Q: How many aid parcels have you distributed?
Until now we’ve been able to been able to distribute approximately 5,000 aid parcels. They contain bulgur, rice, lentils, sugar, cans of tuna, sardines and cheese. We also distribute hygiene packets. These include soap, toothpaste, feminine products and cleaning detergent.
As for difficulties, the most serious is the lack of aid warehouses for humanitarian emergencies, like the one we’re in.
Humanitarian agencies demand that aid be distributed immediately. This means we can’t store it for emergencies.
We face another predicament with our food parcels. Each is meant to contain ready-made meals, but with these circumstances, it’s not possible. The presence of canned foods is meant, in a small way, to compensate for this.
On top of all this, the aid provided to refugees by different organizations is estimated to be 70 percent short of the needed aid. This is due in large part to the sudden increase of displacement in such a short time.
Q: Why do you think the regime began such a fierce air campaign now?
The regime is looking to strip the opposition of popular support by displacing civilians. Personally, I think the regime is applying pressure to the opposition through Russian airpower by targeting civilians.
The end goal is to pressure the opposition into negotiations. There is talk that might take place in August.