'No place is safe:' Displaced Syrians in Idlib are out of options

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa)– Abu Zuheir, a blind man with a family of 12, is among more than 400,000 people displaced in north-western Syria since a government offensive that started in April. Idlib province has fast become one of most dangerous places in the world.
Abu Zuheir left Aleppo with his family in 2016 while it was under siege by the Syrian government. He thought he was bringing them to safety in the north-western province of Idlib.
But since April, the province has been under attack by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian allies, leaving Abu Zuheir's family of 12 at risk again.

"I was wrong when I thought we would be safe here - now there is no place in Idlib which is safe," said the man, who provides for his family by selling candy in the streets of Idlib city with his 8-year-old daughter.
The 47-year-old feels stuck. He has been displaced several times: from Aleppo city to the countryside surrounding it, then to Maaret al-Numaan city in Idlib province before ending up in Idlib city. He cannot afford to move again.
The government offensive is targeting Idlib and areas in the province of Hama, the last major opposition stronghold in the country.
The area is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance led by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, but the region also has other rebel groups backed by Turkey.
Many rebels and their families were moved to Idlib in recent years during Russia-sponsored deals carried out as the government seized most areas in southern and central Syria from rebels, who have been fighting to oust al-Assad since 2011.
The offensive has sparked a new of wave of displacement in north-western Syria.
It also ended months of calm in the area, which followed a deal in September between Russia and Syria's neighbour, Turkey - which supports some rebel groups - to establish a demilitarized buffer zone in north-western Syria.
"The 'de-escalation zone' has fast become one of most dangerous places in the world for civilians and aid workers today," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Some 3 million people – 1.4 million of whom are already displaced – remain trapped in the crossfire,” Swanson said.
More than 400,000 people have been displaced in north-western Syria since April. Some of them have been displaced up to 10 times.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the offensive has so far killed 2,721 people, including 809 civilians.
Ahmed Ali Daham has been displaced five times. When the offensive started he was in Maaret al-Numaan, but fled after it was badly hit two months ago.
He is a volunteer with the White Helmets, a first responder group that operates in rebel-held areas.
"No one and no place is safe ... all of us live minute by minute," he told dpa by phone, adding that he moved his family to areas near the Syrian-Turkish border to protect them.
Seven White Helmets volunteers have died since the onslaught started in attacks targeting them and their ambulances directly.   
Ousman al-Saloum has been moving with his family from one place to another since 2014. They left Latamneh, in Hama, and went to Idlib's Khan Sheikhoun at beginning of the recent offensive.
When raids intensified on their area, they would escape to the fields and nearby areas for 10 days only to return.
"Since the southern countryside of Idlib started to be unsafe we have been on the move," he said. "We sleep in one village not knowing if we will leave the second day."
Seven-year-old Marwa Almhol has been displaced twice in the past month from her home town Maaret al-Numaan. Her house was destroyed a month ago in a strike, but she and her family miraculously escaped.
On Monday, Marwa, her mother and her brother returned to the city to try to retrieve some belongings from the ruins of their house. The same day, airstrikes, reportedly by Russian planes, hit a market in the city, killing some 40 people and wounding more than 100.
"When I heard the planes I immediately closed my ears and ran to the door. I thought we escaped death once, but we will not escape a second time," she told dpa.
"I feel that we will always be on the run and those planes will be chasing us wherever we go," she said.

Friday, July 26th 2019
Weedah Hamzah (dpa)

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