Thursday, 9 April 2020

73,000 Syrians have returned to Syria's Idlib after ceasefire

Report: 73,000 Syrians returned to Syria's Idlib after ceasefire ...

 'Around 73,000 Syrians have returned to the Syrian governorate of Idlib following the ceasefire agreement reached between Turkey and Russia in early March.

 The Director of the Syrian Response Coordinators, Muhammad Hallaj, said “Some of the displaced Syrians have returned to their homes immediately after the Syrian régime operations ceased.”

 Hallaj explained that many of the displaced people preferred to stay in the camps near the Syrian-Turkish border due to the régime forces’ control over their villages and towns.Civilians started to return from densely populated camps to fix their houses and shops

 According to Hallaj nearly one million Syrians have been displaced from since October 2019, as a result of the Syrian régime’s bombing of the area.

 Turkey and Russia agreed on a ceasefire commencing on 12 January. However, the Assad régime and its allies defied the agreement and launched continuous attacks.

 In response, the Turkish and Russian presidents gathered in Moscow on 5 March to reach a new deal, and a fresh ceasefire went into effect the following day. Although régime forces have violated the deal at several points, the parties currently remain loyal to the ceasefire.

 Russia supports Assad's forces, while Turkey backs militants who have opposed him for nearly nine years.

 Following the Astana talks of 2017, Turkey, Russia, and Iran agreed to turn Idlib province and three other regions into “de-escalation zones”, where acts of aggression were prohibited.

 However, the régime and Iran-backed foreign terror groups captured three of the zones with support of Russian airstrikes, and Idlib became their new target.

 The régime forces intensified its military deployment in September 2018, which paved the way for the Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia the same month.

 Later on, the Syrian régime, after pausing its aggression, launched a ground offensive in May 2019 and captured south and southeastern Idlib, northern parts and eastern rural areas of Hama, and many settlements of southern and western rural parts of Aleppo.

 Since the Sochi deal, the regime and allies’ attacks killed over 1,800 civilians, and nearly two million people have been displaced due to aggression since early 2019.'

Report: 73,000 Syrians returned to Syria's Idlib after ceasefire ...

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Meet Syria’s female doctors

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 'Amid indiscriminate shelling by the Assad régime and its allies in northern Syria, many of those who worked in the medical field, including doctors, pharmacists and nurses, fled the country at a time when their areas were in dire need of medical attention. This has prompted a number of women to fill the medical void by forming medical points and field hospitals in Idlib and its countryside and in Aleppo’s western countryside.

 Alia al-Ahmad, a nurse at the Idlib National Hospital, never expected to work in the medical field. “In the past, I could not bear to see injuries and blood, but things changed after witnessing the regime’s daily violence against civilians. I decided to be courageous because I felt I had a responsibility,” she said.

 Ahmad said she and her colleagues are working to develop their expertise in the areas of internal and external medicine, physical therapy and lab work by participating in medical training and workshops set up by medical organizations, such as the Independent Doctors Association, in Aleppo’s western countryside through an internal education system in the hospitals where they work.

 The important role of women in the medical field appeared in light of the shelling, the ongoing battles and the absence of sufficient numbers of medical staff in hospitals, which prevented all patients from being treated in a timely, urgent manner. While three wounded people are treated, a fourth injured person will be left to die in the absence of quick treatment.

 Abdel Karim Yassin, head of the primary health care department in the Free Aleppo Health Directorate in Aleppo, said that women’s work in the medical field at the beginning of the revolution was on a smaller scale, specifically between 2014 and 2015, and then steadily increased, so the number of female workers in the medical field doubled, whether they were doctors or nurses, community health workers, nutritionists or psychological support workers.

 He said women's roles in the medical field are as significant as that of men; most workers in the nursing field were able to succeed and do all the work entrusted to them to the fullest extent, as well as with regard to the nutrition sector through monitoring cases of malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

 Yassin said women also recently entered the psychological support domain “and were better [equipped] than men when it came to the ability to deal with displaced women and to listen to the issues they faced during their recent displacements." Women also excelled at "providing treatment and solutions," said Yassin, noting that women’s participation in the medical field has helped fill the gap and contributed to improving medical services.

 Not only did Syrian women enter the medical field, but they also threw themselves into the Syrian Civil Defense and were able to help save the lives of civilians, as female volunteers took on the task of saving women and children from bombing sites and evacuated them to safe places while accompanying male volunteers who assisted injured men.

 Director of the media office in the Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib province Ahmed Sheikho said there are 264 female volunteers in 33 centers in Idlib province alone who are working to provide the families of the area with medical relief, psychological support and awareness services.

 He said female volunteers are chosen after taking exams, and those who have diplomas from medical institutes or certificates from medical courses are selected.

 These volunteers provide multiple services inside the fixed centers, including measuring blood pressure and blood sugar levels, giving ultrasound scans for pregnant women, weight control, dressing wounds and burns, giving sessions to adults and children on the proper use of inhalers, installing serums, first aid response, and providing community and health awareness for children and mothers.

 Sheikho said the most difficult issue facing the civil defense volunteers was the systematic bombing campaigns directly targeting the fixed centers and the teams while working; these bombings have killed a number of volunteers who were performing their humanitarian work and seriously injured others.

 Salwa al-Qadi, a civil defense volunteer from the city of Jisr al-Shughour, said why she joined the civil defense: “When the warplanes targeted our home and our roof fell over our heads, my family and I would have died had it not been for the civil defense’s immediate response. [The volunteers] were operating with primitive means under the bombing of the warplanes that target the same place again when the civil defense teams arrived.”

 She added, “They risked their lives trying to help me and my family from inevitable death. My gratefulness pushed me to volunteer just so I can feel worthy thanks to the important humanitarian work we do when saving the lives of innocent people.”

 Qadi underwent extensive courses in medical relief, nursing and first aid at Bab al-Hawa Hospital; she admitted she initially faced criticism from her conservative community because this type of work was new for women, but she overcame it with patience and persistence.

 The medical sector in Syria suffers under miserable conditions amid severe bombing and direct targeting of health care facilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported back in March 2018 that years of war in Syria have destroyed the health care system, so more than half of the public hospitals and other health care centers are closed or are not working at full capacity. WHO noted that 3.11 million people are in need of medical care, 3 million of whom live with chronic diseases, serious injuries and disabilities.

 In spite of the war and targeting of medical facilities, Syrian women working in the medical and civil defense fields are alleviating the pain of the injured and filling the massive gap of human resources in this vital sector. They carry out their humanitarian work in the most challenging, difficult conditions.'

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Sunday, 15 March 2020

Popular demonstrations on the 9th. Anniversary of the Syrian Revolution

 'Several popular demonstrations took place today, Sunday, on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution in the regions of northern Syria.

 Syrians set out today on demonstrations in the city of Idlib and Maarat Misrin and on the "M4" road near Ariha in its countryside, along with other demonstrations in Batbu, Afrin and Al-Bab in Aleppo countryside and Saluk in Raqqa countryside and other areas.

 The demonstrators stressed the continuation of the Syrian revolution until it fulfilled its demands to expel the forces of aggression and gain freedom.

 They chanted revolutionary songs and chants condemning the criminality of Russia, Iran, and the Assad régime, and they paid tribute to the martyrs of the revolution and renewed their solidarity with the detainees.

 Today, Sunday, marks the ninth anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution that erupted on March 15, 2011, calling for freedom and dignity. The Assad régime has responded since the early days with excessive violence and massacres, and it has also brought Russia and Iran in to try to suppress Syrians.'


The Syrian uprising and the birth of an idea

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 Zouhir al-Shimale:

 'Supporters of the revolution against the Assad régime take stock of the toll the war has taken nine years after it started.

 Fared Alhor from Maarat al Nouman is 26 years old and has known nothing but war for the entirety of his adult life.

 He was in high school before the Syrian uprising started, and had a part time job helping out with local publishing companies.

 That experience would later come in handy by photographing the atrocities carried out by the Assad régime and the resulting humanitarian crisis in northern Syria.

 Alhor has more than skin in the game when it comes to the conflict, having had his home destroyed in régime bombardments. He lost his aunt, and was forced to flee for the relative safety of north east Idlib when régime forces took his hometown.

 Maarat al Nouman was recently captured from Syrian opposition fighters by régime forces backed by heavy bombardment from Russian warplanes.

 Despite the toll the war has had, however, Alhor has no regrets about the uprising.

 “Many people won’t understand why I say the Syrian uprising was worth it,” he said.

 “Even though I was young when it kicked off, I am very privileged that I got to live through it. It made us young people understand the meaning of freedom and equality…something that did not exist before.”

 Alhor believes that there will one day be peace in Syria but not in the foreseeable future. He believes the lack of international support for the revolution is the main reason why the régime of Bashar al Assad remains.

 “The international community bears a large responsibility towards what’s happening in our country,” Alhor said. “They turned a blind eye towards the relentless régime attacks against people, schools, hospitals, and even camps for the displaced.”

 While youths like Alhor have no regrets over the uprising, there’s no escaping the impact the war has had on their development.

 Many Syrians have spent their formative years knowing nothing but war, at the expense of experiencing the kind of things other young people around the world get to experience.

 Nazir Abbas, a 27-year-old human rights activist from Kafranbel, which was recently lost to régime forces, rued the years of his life lost to war.

 “I have lost a decade of my life,” he said from a camp for the displaced near the border with Turkey.

 “I should have had a family by now and enjoyed spending my youth with family and friends in our hometown.”
 Unlike Alhor, Abbas is not optimistic about the future, admitting that the future is not ‘very bright’.

 But like his compatriot, Abbas has no regrets about the Syrian revolution.

 “We’ve grown up from within...the seed of freedom is ten years old now and it will continue to grow and thrive within us and in the generations to come. What keeps me strong is the hope that the Baath régime will be dismantled.”

 The war in Syria has left more than 500,000 people dead and led to the displacement of more than 11 million people, including six million as refugees outside of the country.

 Assad’s campaign to keep his régime in place has seen him level civilian neigbourhoods, use chemical weapons on children, and torture tens of thousands to death.

 Nevertheless, Syrians have stressed that while the moment of physical freedom from the Assad régime appears distant at the moment, mentally there will be no return to life under dictatorship.

 Sanaa al Ali, a 30-year-old mother who fled from Ghouta to northern Idlib said the past nine years of revolution have been as if she was born again.

 “After a lifetime of having to chirp praise for the ‘eternal leader’, Syrians have gone out and said no (we won’t),” she said.

 Adding: “The revolution was the first time we heard our own voice, and we will never abandon it or give up our cause, no matter what.”

 To further explain this mindset, Ali described what life was like under Assad’s Syria. She recalled how parents would remind their children not to say anything sensitive too loud for fear of being heard by the state surveillance apparatus.

 “Whisper, the walls have ears,” she remembers her parents warning. Now, however, the “kingdom of fear has crumbled,” she added.

 A theme that ran across the conversations we had with the Syrians was that any notion of Assad winning the conflict were premature and pyrrhic.

 Ali described the notion as an illusion, arguing that Syria had changed forever and would never fully be in control of the régime.

 That - she insisted- was because Assad was fighting for territory while for Syrians it was a battle of ideas.

 “We need to understand and restate that the essence of Assad’s battles against Syrians is a battle against an idea, the idea of freedom that we need to continue spreading,” Ali said.

 “The revolt is an idea, and ideas do not die.” '

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Syrian refugee's plea: 'Stop the river of blood'

Syrian refugee Sahar, 26, was just a teenager when conflict began

 'Close to five million Syrians are now living as refugees beyond the country's borders, but an estimated six million are displaced within their own country, many of whom have had to flee the conflict multiple times.

 Half of those displaced are in the northwest, trapped in a shrinking rebel-held area centred around Idlib, that has been battered by months of deadly bombardments.

 Among them is 26-year-old Sahar, originally from the southern suburbs outside Idlib where her family home was partially destroyed by airstrikes.

 Sahar was just a teenager when the Syrian conflict first began and since then she and her family have had to uproot and flee from the ongoing fighting at least three times.

 "I cannot describe those moments, it was one of the hardest moments because we had to leave the house that I was raised in," she recalled.

 "We had to leave everything in order to save our lives and my family's lives from murders or arrest because if the régime came they would arrest us and I had been arrested before."

 She describes the ongoing fear caused by having to uproot multiple times: "It is a very hard feeling, having to leave everything in order to survive … Now I live in Idlib city centre, which is also not safe because of the air strikes and the bombing towards the civilians."

 Sahar’s family was most recently displaced in mid-February and she is currently stuck in Idlib city, amidst the constant threat of air strikes.

 "The hardest thing right now that I feel is instability. A huge population crisis happened because citizens from the south suburbs of Idlib had to emigrate to the north, toward Idlib city and the borders."

 Sahar is now living with her family in overcrowded conditions near the border with Turkey, uncertain about what the future holds.

 "Most people, after they left their homes didn't have any income. This is really a hard thing. Camps for displaced people have really bad conditions. More than one family has to live in the same tent. Sometimes there are four or five families in the one tent which they use as kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and a living room - all in the same tent."

 A Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal came into effect last Friday, bringing relative calm to Idlib, its skies free of warplanes for the first day in months,

 Like many in the city, Sahar’s main hope is for peace and safety:

 "What I wish for is to live peacefully and safely with my family and all the people here in Idlib city … I hope that Syria will become a safe country and that we could live here with dignity."

She added: "We need the support from all the countries in the world, we need the international community to stay by our side.

 "Those civilians and children are not involved with anything, we are normal civilians who only want to live in our areas and our homes. Stop the river of blood and get aid to the displacement camps." '

Friday, 13 March 2020

Idlib: Syria's 'forgotten city' targeted for revenge by Assad

 'Locals call Idlib "the forgotten city", still paying the price for one day in the 1970s when the former president was pelted with tomatoes.

 The city and its surroundings have suffered furious bombardments since December at the hands of Syrian forces and Russian jets, leaving hundreds dead and forcing huge numbers to flee towards the Turkish border.

 With a tentative ceasefire announced on March 6, villager Malek Haj Khalil returned to his home in Sarmin, just east of Idlib, hoping to recover a few belongings from the ruins of his house.

 But he found nothing beyond an air conditioning unit and a few broken pans among the twisted iron bars that were once his home.

 "We were hoping to find a few things, some furniture or blankets, but there is nothing," he said.

 Some neighbours had more success, and were loading gas cookers, mattresses and sofas on to trucks.

 "When the army came, it poured out all the hatred it has against us... targeting civilians and their houses," said Khalil.

 Idlib was one of the first provinces to join the uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad, and is now the last to remain in rebel hands, but the roots of that "hatred" predate the revolution in 2011.

 Tucked in the northwest of the country, Idlib's residents have long felt overlooked by their rulers in Damascus.

 Locals and researchers particularly recall the time in the early 1970s when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father who ruled from 1971 until his death in 2000, made his first and only visit to Idlib. An angry crowd pelted him with tomatoes and a shoe.

 "After that incident, Hafez al-Assad never returned to the city. It has since been cut off, and that shows in the quality of its infrastructure and schools," said Mohammad Sarmini, head of Syrian research centre Jusoor in Istanbul.

 "It was this marginalisation that pushed Idlib to join the revolution," he added.

 According to Taleb al-Dugheim, a specialist on Syrian history, the slight against Assad senior in Idlib "was never forgotten, and transformed into repression and marginalisation" that continued under his son decades later.

 The régime also remembers Idlib's role in the protests of the 1980s, Dugheim said, when many supported a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama that was brutally suppressed.

 Asaad Falaha knows the hatred well. He leads a charity running a primary school in Binnish, east of Idlib city, that the régime has bombed three times during the recent offensive.

 "Seventy percent of it has been destroyed. To target a school like this shows the hatred of the régime," he said.

 The province shelters three million people -- half of them displaced from other regions.

 Assad has taken a close interest in the battle to retake it.

 "When Bashar al-Assad visited the town of Al-Habit in Idlib province in October, he personally supervised artillery shelling against (the then rebel-held) Maarat al-Numan," said Dugheim.

 "The régime acts as though the inhabitants of the Idlib are not really Syrians," he added.

 Assad's forces retook the town of Kafranbel in the south of the province in February. It was one of the last standing symbols of the revolution, full of darkly ironic slogans against the régime.

 That spirit still shows flickers of life further north in the province: on a partially destroyed school in Binnish, someone has written advice for protecting against the coronavirus, with Assad depicting as the virus.

 On the wall of a gutted-out classroom, someone has offered a history lesson: "Date: the era of dictators. Course: revolution. Lesson: death." '

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