Syria’s civil war enters its ninth year with new wave of violence on horizon
As the Syrian civil war enters its ninth year, a new wave of violence looms for millions of civilians in the country’s north.
Over the last year, the Syrian government has recaptured all rebel-held territory in the south, securing President Bashar al-Assad’s position. All that remains of the armed opposition is cornered in the province of Idlib and parts of Aleppo.
And yet in those areas, a militant force that shows little regard to the original aims of Syria’s uprising has consolidated power, and looks set for a showdown with the Syrian army and its Russian backer.
The Syrian army says it is responding to an increase in attacks from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadists – a group designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK, with former ties to al-Qaeda.
After a string of victories against other opposition groups, it is the dominant force in Idlib – and controls border crossings into the area.
In consolidating its power, it has engaged in the same kind of repression that sparked the uprising against Assad’s rule, with its notorious security branch rounding up and imprisoning those who call for the democratic ideals of the revolution.
The group is also accused of being behind the assassinations of several well known activists, including Raed Fares and Hamoud Jneid, who ran a local radio station where they spoke out against the militants.
Hundreds have died in Syrian government and Russian attacks on “de-escalation” zones in Idlib over the past two months, and some 40,000 civilians have fled their homes to escape the fighting.
The province is home to more than 3 million people, around half of whom are displaced from other parts of the country. Aid groups on the ground have warned that camps are bursting at the seams.
“There is a huge sense of panic now in Idlib as more health facilities are forced to close and people are dying or suffering in acute pain because they cannot get the treatment they need,” says Naser Haghamed, CEO of Islamic Relief, a charity that operates in Idlib.
“Once again, it’s the beleaguered civilians who are finding themselves under attack on all fronts. Wherever they are and regardless of who is controlling them, people must have access to lifesaving healthcare and the international community must step up to ensure that aid continues to reach those in crisis.”
But charities are at risk of falling foul of the law if they send aid into Idlib via a crossing controlled by a designated terrorist organisation. The risk of being caught up in the fighting is increasing by the day.
Wednesday saw some of the worst bombing in weeks, with Russian and Syrian government forces targeting the Idlib countryside and the city itself.