Scroll to top

Idlib Was Their Last Refuge. They Couldn’t Hide From the Bombs.

2020-05-18 20:34:33

Idlib Province, in the northwest corner of Syria, is home to one of the biggest displacement crises in the world. In March, a small window between a cease-fire and the start of the coronavirus pandemic, gave us a rare chance to see what was happening on the ground. We found a landscape battered by airstrikes, and people with nowhere left to hide — indiscriminately bombed in tents, schools and on the road. Among them are Rawda al-Bakour and her family, who fled their home to this poultry farm. But moving here didn’t spare them from the bombs. Even as families began to flee in March 2019, at the start of a new offensive to retake Idlib, Syrian and Russian warplanes bombed them scores of times, killing around 200 people. Two of the worst strikes were in Maarat Misrin, a town near the front line of this conflict, now in its 10th year. Like the rest of Idlib, it’s a mix of rebels and jihadists, overworked doctors and people trying to survive. On Feb. 25, the neighborhoods surrounding the town’s hospital came under attack, including a school across the street. It was hosting dozens of displaced families when an explosion sprayed shrapnel across the courtyard. Fadila Zarifa is a nurse who treated the wounded. Nine days later, on March 5, there would be another attack in Maarat Misrin. This one on the poultry farm, where Rawda al-Bakour’s family had taken up home. It was just after 2 a.m. when a warplane made its first strike on the isolated farm around a mile outside town. Over the radio, flight observers warned rescuers that a Russian warplane was circling overhead. Rawda’s wasn’t the only family that had found shelter on the farm. One of their neighbors, Salem Qteish, was trapped under rubble by the first strike. Rescuers pulled Salem’s brother, Muhammad, out from the rubble. Salem and his brother were badly wounded. Salem’s mother, father and two daughters didn’t make it. Sixteen people were killed, and around 35 wounded. The Times has documented 33 airstrikes on displaced people in northwest Syria since March 2019, when the offensive began. But the actual number of attacks is probably much higher. Around 1,800 civilians in the northwest have been killed in the past year, in shelling and airstrikes. [explosion] “That was definitely Syrian.” “As long as it missed us.” Only Syrian and Russian jets are bombing these parts of Idlib. It’s an attempt to retake the last pocket of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Indiscriminate and reckless bombing like this may be a war crime. But just hours after the strike on the poultry farm on March 5, it was Russia and Turkey, which keeps hundreds of troops in Idlib, signing a cease-fire in Moscow. That cease-fire has held, but it’s not a solution for millions of displaced families. Formal and informal camps here have swelled. And families are living in packed tents without running water, health care or reliable food. They’re an indefinitely displaced population, unable to flee any farther. And if the cease-fire breaks, under siege again. Rawda’s family still lives where they were bombed.


Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *