Mousa Abu Ahmad steps out of the threadbare tent that has housed his family of 13 for the past three weeks. The 40-year-old, from the plot of silty soil where his tent is pitched, can see Maarat a-Numan, one of Idlib province’s main cities, to the west.
Abu Ahmad is originally from the al-Rahjan, a rural village in northeastern Hama province roughly 90 km southeast of Maarat a-Numan. The village, which sits on a regime-rebel frontline, is the site of repeated clashes, shelling and airstrikes over the past two months.
Abu Ahmad is one of roughly 100,000 residents who fled the scattering of towns and villages in northeastern Hama in the past three weeks—some deeper into Hama province, others west to neighboring Idlib—Nafa al-Barzani, president of the Hama Provincial Council, told Syria Direct. The council governs rebel-held areas of the province’s north. Only 20,000 residents now remain in Hama’s northeast countryside, he says, after two months of battles and bombardment.
Syrian rebel forces control a large bloc of territory in Syria’s northwest spanning parts of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama provinces. At the southeast tip of that territory, which falls in northeast Hama, the hardline rebel coalition Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) is battling back separate offensives by the Islamic State (IS) and pro-government forces.
Control of the frontline village a-Rahjan, now under HTS control, has changed hands four times in the past two months alone. Nearby towns and villages are swept up in the fighting,and most residents pour into neighboring Idlib province to escape Hama’s embattled northeast countryside.
“We departed with the clothes on our back and left everything behind,” said Abu Ahmad. “But, thank God, we made it out with our lives.”
Clusters of displaced families live in two informal encampments—one on the outskirts of Maarat a-Numan, a city in southern Idlib, and the other outside Sinjar, a town in eastern Idlib. The two camps lie northwest of their embattled Hama villages and far enough from the frontlines.
Opposition-run local councils in Idlib and Hama provinces say they are working to ensure that displaced families have at least a tent as winter approaches. But displaced families still lack adequate medical care, sanitation, drinking water, foodstuffs and heating, two residents and two local council members told Syria Direct this week.
Syria Direct’s Ibrahim a-Shamali and Abdulmajid al-Amar visited the encampments in Maarat a-Numan and Sinjar to speak with the displaced families from a-Rahjan.
This photo essay is part of Syria Direct's month-long coverage of northwestern Syria in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and reporters on the ground in Syria. Read our primer here.