People's Stories Peace

Once again families and children find themselves caught in deadly violence
by OCHA, Mercycorps, NRC, OHCHR, Unicef, agencies
17 Oct. 2019 (DW, agencies)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the commander of the Kurdish SDF forces have agreed to a five-day ceasefire in the military offensive in northeastern Syria.
Following the agreement, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) Mazlum Abdi told the Kurdish Ronahi television station "we are ready to abide by the ceasefire" covering the area from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad.
However, he expressed uncertainty over other parts along the border that Turkey wants to include in the safe zone.
Following the ceasefire announcement, EU leaders repeated their call for Turkey to end its offensive on Kurdish forces in Syria and withdraw its troops.
"The European Council notes tonight''s announcement on a pause for all military operations. It again urges Turkey to end its military action, to withdraw its forces and to respect international humanitarian law," the leaders said in a summit statement.
Turkey launched its military operation in northeastern Syria last week, targeting the US-backed Kurdish-led militia alliance who have fought "Islamic State" (IS) militants in Syria after the United States withdrew from the border.
Mr. Erdogan said he wanted to create a 32-kilometer-deep, 480-kilometer-long (20-mile by 300-mile) "safe zone" inside Syria along the border to ''protect'' its security and provide room to resettle millions of Syrian war refugees now in Turkey. Some commentators have described the action as ''ethnic cleansing''.
15 Oct. 2019
Humanitarian Aid urgently required in areas affected by Conflict in Syria: IOM Director General
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Syria, where heavy fighting is displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.
According to humanitarian partners, an estimated 190,000 people have fled their homes in northeast Syria since the latest round of military operations began last Wednesday.
“All parties to the conflict must adhere to International Humanitarian Law. Humanitarians must be allowed access to the displaced in order to provide urgent medical and lifesaving assistance,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino.
Many of Syria’s 6.1 million internally displaced have been repeatedly forced from their homes, in some cases after they have returned to their communities. Between May and August of this year, fighting displaced an estimated 400,000 Syrians in the northwest of the country.
“The cycle of successive displacement is particularly concerning. Continued military operations will have devastating consequences for the seven million people living in Northern Syria,” DG Vitorino added.
United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Karen Smith, also expressed their alarm over the current situation in northeast Syria following the launch of a military operation by Turkey on 09 October.
The Special Advisers stated that “the civilians of Syria continue to live through one of the worst conflicts of our time, with repeated violations of their basic rights and protections guaranteed under international law. This latest escalation of the conflict again puts civilians at grave risk.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported on a number of civilian casualties, including allegations of summary executions, and humanitarian actors report that nearly 200,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the military operation.”
The Special Advisers stress that Turkish authorities and all parties to the conflict in Syria need to ensure strict adherence to the legal obligation to protect civilians. This is the responsibility of all State and non-State actors.
No civilian should be forced to leave their home against their will. In addition, any return of refugees needs to be voluntary and when conditions are safe for them to do so sustainably.
The Special Advisers also urged the international community, and the Security Council in particular, to do more to uphold the responsibility to protect civilians in the Syrian conflict.
The repeated failure of the Security Council to speak with a united voice and to take action to protect civilian populations at risk of serious violations goes against the responsibility to protect principle, a commitment made by all Member States.
The Special Advisers reiterated calls for de-escalation and for a political solution to the Syria crisis stating that “far too many civilians have already been victims of atrocity crimes in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011 and millions of Syrians remain at risk of these crimes.
Until there is a sustainable political solution to the crisis, one in which all communities in the country have a voice and their rights can be protected, the risk of atrocity crimes remains a reality”.
Following the launch of Turkish military operations and the extremely volatile situation in northeast Syria, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from northeast Syria.
These have been extremely difficult decisions, as MSF is very aware of the needs of fleeing and vulnerable people in the region.
However, the highly unpredictable and fast-changing situation at present has made it impossible for MSF to negotiate safe access to deliver healthcare and provide humanitarian assistance to people in distress. Given the numerous groups fighting on different sides of the conflict, MSF can no longer guarantee the safety of our Syrian and international staff.
“The people in northeast Syria have already endured years of conflict and uncertainty. The latest developments have only increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity,” says Robert Onus, MSF Emergency Manager for Syria.
“It is with a heavy heart that MSF has taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate its international staff out of northeast Syria. We cannot operate at scale until we can gain the assurances and acceptance of all parties to the conflict that we can operate safely.
The decision to suspend the majority of MSF’s activities comes as the humanitarian situation spirals further out of control and needs are likely to increase.
Today, as MSF teams depart, we have heard from our staff that the people in Ain Issa camp are severely lacking food, water and medical assistance. Just last week, MSF teams were providing healthcare and, supplying water and mental health support to people living in the camp. Now they are left in a very precarious situation and we are extremely worried for their wellbeing.
MSF calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians. We further call on them to provide humanitarian organisations with safe and unhindered access to the civilian population so they can deliver assistance, at a time when it is urgently needed.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): “We estimate that nearly 70,000 children have been displaced since hostilities in northeast Syria escalated nearly a week ago. At least 170,000 children could require humanitarian assistance due to the violence.
As violence continues to escalate, UNICEF renews its calls on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to protect children at all times. Those fighting in the northeast and elsewhere in Syria must protect civilian infrastructure and not use it for military gains.
During the course of the offensive or defending against it, all parties should take action to a avoid attacking areas where civilians, including children may be found; prevent children from being separated from their caregivers; and allow unimpeded access by independent humanitarian organizations to deliver life-saving assistance to children and families affected by the conflict.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO): “Already weakened health services in northeast Syria have been severely impacted by the latest developments. The national hospital in Ras Al-Ain is currently out of service, and the national hospital and two health centres in Tel Abyad are also currently non-functional.
Health facilities in camps hosting displaced people in Ain Issa and Ras al Ain have also been evacuated, with additional facilities under threat as the conflict rapidly escalates.
A number of health partners have already suspended services due to insecurity, further disrupting access to essential health care services.
WHO calls on all parties to the conflict to preserve the right to health of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in northeast Syria and comply with international humanitarian law to protect all civilians including health-care workers and patients.”
Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP): WFP calls on all parties to ensure that vital supply routes are kept open and safe for humanitarian deliveries. Without such access, people in need across Syria would be in grave danger.
10 Oct. 2019 (UN News)
A de-escalation of renewed conflict in northern Syria is “absolutely essential,” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Thursday. His comments follow the launch of airstrikes and a ground offensive by Turkey.
The UN chief said that he did not “believe in military solutions for the Syrian problem, also for any other problem in the world. I always strongly believe in political solutions.”
He also expressed concern over the humanitarian situation and civilian displacement. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR said earlier that tens of thousands of civilians were on the move to escape the fighting.
European Union countries on the UN Security Council expressed their deep concern in a statement calling on Turkey to “cease the unilateral military action”, which they believe will not address the country’s underlying security concerns.
“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements which will further increase the number of refugees and IDPs in Syria and in the region,” said German Ambassador Jurgen Schulz.
Civilians ‘must not be a target’, urges UNHCR, following military escalation in northern Syria.
UNHCR is calling on all sides to respect international human rights law, which includes providing access to aid agencies supporting people in need.
“Hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Syria are now in harm''s way. Civilians and civilian infrastructure must not be a target,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.
UNHCR warns that the situation risks causing more suffering in addition to adding to what is already the largest displacement crisis in the world, with more than five million Syrians living as refugees while another six million are internally displaced.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said “a military escalation would have dramatic consequences on the ability of humanitarian actors to provide assistance and protection to thousands of vulnerable children.”
Any new military campaign may lead to insecurity and chaos which could create circumstances for the resurgence of the extremist group ISIL, or Daesh, according to the members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry investigating violations committed in the eight-year long Syrian crisis. “The last thing Syrians need now is a new wave of violence,” they stated.
Oct. 2019
15 aid agencies warn of humanitarian crisis in North-East Syria - Civilians at risk as violence escalates and humanitarian work is suspended. (Reliewfweb)
Reports from humanitarian responders on the ground say civilians are already on the move and that some vital services have been interrupted, including medical facilities and water supplies. Agencies say that some of their staff have fled with their families, while others are on lockdown.
An estimated 450,000 people live within 5km of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritise the protection of civilians. The population includes more than 90,000 internally displaced people, who have already been forced to flee their homes at least once in Syria''s unrelenting war.
According to UN OCHA, there are at least 1,650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Syria. The life-saving humanitarian response will be threatened if instability forces aid agencies to suspend or relocate their programming and staff, as is already happening.
With an ongoing major crisis in Idlib and huge needs across the country, the aid response in Syria is already stretched to breaking point.
The 15 aid agencies are urging parties to the conflict to fully respect International Humanitarian Law and ensure that they refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas.
They must ensure all measures are taken to protect civilians and facilitate safe, unhindered humanitarian access. People living in the area affected by this military action have the right to freedom of movement and must not be forcibly displaced from their homes.
Likewise, there must be no forcible returns of refugees living in Turkey to Syria. Anyone returned could face threats to their safety and security, continued internal displacement and reliance on humanitarian assistance that the international community is not in a position to provide.
According to the Government of Turkey, an estimated 83 per cent of the three million Syrians in Turkey do not originate from the north-east.
The international community must emphasize the need for restraint and reiterate importance of protecting civilians and facilitating unimpeded humanitarian operations. All children must be protected and provided humanitarian assistance.
Urgent action is needed to ensure that the humanitarian situation in north-east Syria does not worsen further, with potentially dire consequences for families and children who find themselves once again caught up in deadly violence.
Civilians face imminent threat as Turkey attacks northeast Syria - Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Earlier today, 9 October, Turkish military forces launched military operations in northeast Syria. At the time of publication Turkish forces were carrying out airstrikes and directing artillery fire against the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The current military situation is unclear, but a Turkish ground invasion would pose a grave and immediate threat to Kurdish and other Syrian civilians in the northeast. Human rights activists and Kurdish representatives have expressed fears of “ethnic cleansing” potentially being perpetrated by Turkish forces.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously warned that Turkey would pursue unilateral military action in northeast Syria if the United States continued to delay implementation of a proposed “safe zone” in the area. On Sunday, 6 October, President Donald Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria, effectively allowing Turkish forces to pursue this long-planned operation in the region.
During the United States-led international military campaign against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), the SDF did the majority of the fighting on the ground in Syria. YPG fighters constitute the majority of the SDF and also played a key role in protecting the Yazidi population in neighboring Iraq during the 2014 genocide perpetrated by ISIL. US forces worked closely with the SDF in anti-ISIL operations and the SDF have officially denounced the US decision to withdraw as "a betrayal." Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist organization” and considers an independent Kurdish homeland in northeast Syria as a threat to Turkish national security.
Turkey also plans to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey to a “safe zone” in northeast Syria after it has been “cleared” of the YPG and SDF. Panos Moumtzis, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, has emphasized that “for us as the United Nations, the safe zone concept is one that we have a bitter history [with] and actually we never promote or encourage. We don’t think it is something that had worked for the United Nations, keeping in mind Srebrenica and what had happened in the past.”
Under international law, returns of refugees and other displaced persons must be undertaken in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement and must be safe, voluntary and dignified. Turkey’s planned forced repatriation of Syrian refugees into a northeastern “safe zone” would appear to meet none of these criteria.
The international community must respond to the threats posed by the Turkish offensive. All parties in northeast Syria must strictly adhere to International Humanitarian Law and uphold their obligations to protect civilians.
Aug. 2019
More children killed in Idlib in last four weeks than all of 2018 reports Save the Children
The number of children killed in Idlib in the last four weeks has exceeded the total for 2018, Save the Children and its partner organization Hurras Network have found, as the latest escalation of fighting claimed the lives of eight children on Monday.
The escalation in violence which started at the end of April has now resulted in the deaths of at least 400 people, including 90 children, and displaced 440,000 people. Save the Children and Hurras Network can confirm that at least 33 children have been killed since June 24th, compared to 31 children killed during all of 2018.
This week has been the deadliest since fighting escalated in northwest Syria – which is home to 3 million people. Multiple airstrikes and shelling have left more than 66 people dead and hundreds injured. Bodies, some torn into pieces or burnt beyond recognition, are still being recovered from the rubble.
Many of the victims are women and children, some of them suffering the most horrific injuries, according to the UN and field reports.
“The current situation in Idlib is a nightmare. The injuries we are seeing are horrific. It’s clear that once again children have been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks,” Sonia Khush, Save the Children Syria Response Director, said.
“The bombardment is relentless. It seems as though the different sides have stopped fighting each other and are fighting us, civilians, now. It’s just senseless brutality. I saw dozens of people killed in the marketplace, torn to pieces, including many young children who were playing on the street. They should have been safe,” Ahmad*, an eyewitness, told Save the Children.
Humanitarian agencies are already struggling to respond to the displacement across northwest Syria. Civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, continue to be damaged or destroyed.
In the last two weeks, at least four medical facilities have been impacted by the violence, as well as a water station serving more than 80,000 people, and several schools, settlements for displaced civilians, markets and bakeries, according to the UN. At least eight water facilities that provided drinking water for around 250,000 people in southern Idlib have been attacked in the last two months alone, as summer temperatures soar and civilians are at increased threat of diseases.
“The children of northwest Syria have been caught in violent conflict for 80 days with no lull. They have been denied education, food, healthcare and forced to sleep under the trees in open fields for months now,” Khush added.
Across Syria, 2.1 million children are out of school and 1.3 million are at risk of dropping out. In the northwest, at least 44 schools have been damaged or destroyed recently, as attacks on educational facilities and personnel have increased. Save the Children is calling on all parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and human rights law, and to place the protection of civilians first. Schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure must be protected from attacks.
Another deadly week in Idlib. (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect)
At least 39 civilians were killed at a vegetable market in the city of Maarat al-Numan on Monday, 22 July. The market was allegedly hit by Russian airstrikes, although the Russian government denies this. According to the UN, at least 20 civilians were also killed by airstrikes in other parts of Idlib Governorate, marking one of the deadliest days since government and Russian forces escalated their offensive on the region on 29 April. The UN claims that more than 330,000 people have been displaced and 400 killed since the end of April, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that more than 700 civilians have been killed.
The Idlib offensive has been characterized by the deliberate targeting of civilian-populated areas, including the use of illegal cluster munitions, barrel bombs and incendiary weapons. The armed extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls most of Idlib, also continues to indiscriminately fire rockets towards government-held areas of nearby Aleppo and Hama.
Urging the UN Security Council to take action, on 18 July the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that “Since 1 July at least six health facilities, five schools, three water stations, two bakeries, and one ambulance have been damaged or destroyed… The carnage must stop.. Deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, violate International Humanitarian Law and may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The international community must act now to protect the lives of the millions of civilians living in Idlib governorate. Syrian government forces and their Russian allies, as well as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and all other armed groups, should all commit to an immediate ceasefire and the full implementation of the September 2018 demilitarized zone agreement''.
June 2019
Briefing to the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Idlib by Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
''I briefed this Council one month ago on the worsening humanitarian situation in Idlib. Ten days later, my deputy alerted you to further violence and destruction. Violence, involving Syrian Government forces and their allies, armed opposition forces, and the Security Council-listed terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, continued throughout the holy Eid al-Fitr period.
It has still not stopped despite the announcement of a truce on 12 June.
Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured.
Since 1 May, an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, moving northwards towards the border with Turkey. That''s almost double the number of newly displaced people since my last briefing to you.
A recent rapid assessment found that many of them have moved multiple times since the start of the conflict, some of them have moved as often as ten times. This is a particular feature of the Idlib area. People fled initially from other parts of Syria, then people moved again and again and again, constantly searching for safety.
Camps for the displaced people are overcrowded, with many people forced to stay in the open. Those who remain in towns and villages close to the fighting live in constant fear of the next attack. Many are crowding into basements, seeking refuge from air strikes, volleys of shells and mortar rounds, from fighting which continue to threaten what is left of their homes.
Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit. Power stations have been affected. Crops have been burned. Children are forced out of school.
We have had reports this morning of another 19 people killed yesterday by airstrikes and artillery shelling. And this past weekend, civilians were killed by mortar and rocket attacks in the Al-Wadehy area to the south of Aleppo city.
In short, we are facing a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. There is no denying the facts.
The UN and its partners have been responding with emergency food assistance through ready-to-eat rations, reaching more than 190,000 people in May. In addition, the UN and its partners have been reaching nearly 800,000 people with general food assistance.
Water, health and sanitation supplies have been distributed to some 180,000 displaced people, and water trucking has been made available to people in some 342 camps and informal settlements.
None of this, incidentally, would have been possible if this Council had not renewed resolution 2165. Cross-border assistance remains the only means of reaching people in and around Idlib.
The UN and the brave humanitarian workers on the ground are doing all they can. They are risking their lives to help others.
But the response is stretched and a further increase in need brought on by additional fighting would risk seeing it overwhelmed.
To this day, we continue to receive reports of attacks impacting civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. Since April, according to reports, 37 schools have been affected.
More than 250,000 children are out of school. Some 400,000 students have had their exams cancelled. And 94 schools are currently being used as shelters. As UNICEF said last week, no parent should fear sending their child to a school that may be bombed later that day.
I need to remind you again Mr. President of the incidents affecting health facilities. 26 incidents affecting healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria have been confirmed by the World Health Organization since late April. Eight more than when I last briefed you. Two of those facilities were located in an area controlled by the Government of Syria.
Many other hospitals have closed out of fear of being attacked. These attacks don''t just claim innocent lives. They also deprive thousands of civilians of basic health services, even as fighting intensifies around them.
As you know, some of these hospitals had been deconflicted through the UN''s de-confliction mechanism. All parties have specific obligations to refrain from attacking protected sites under international humanitarian law, regardless of whether they have been de-conflicted or not. It is appalling that these sites were hit in the first place. But hitting a facility whose coordinates were shared as part of the UN''s de-confliction system is simply intolerable.
A number of partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates to be given to the warring parties effectively paints a target on their backs. Some have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people. This whole episode raises deep questions about the de-confliction system. We are discussing this internally, and I will tell you what our conclusions are at the regular monthly humanitarian briefing that we are due to give you next week.
UN Security Council-listed terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has a significant presence in Idlib and is responsible for its own share of the suffering there. Countering HTS is plainly a major challenge.
But counter-terrorism efforts cannot in any way absolve States of their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law. And that is the bottom line, Mr President, just as the Secretary-General said earlier, international humanitarian law must be upheld and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately''.
June 2019
44 Syrian and International NGOs Call for Immediate End to Attacks on Civilians and Hospitals in Idlib, Syria
Three million civilians in northwest Syria are scared and many are homeless. With no concrete actions taken beyond political statements and promises, Syria and the world may soon be witnessing the “worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century”. Rescue and medical workers on the ground are warning that they have not seen such ferocious attacks in eight years in Idlib. If the conflict continues to escalate, as many as 700,000 people could be displaced from their homes in Syria’s last opposition stronghold.
According to the United Nations, over 200,000 people were forced to flee the continuous bombing and shelling of towns in southern Idlib and northern Hama and have few options to seek safety. Up to 80,000 of those who have fled are sleeping rough with no shelter, and many others are crammed into overcrowded homes.
Since the beginning of the escalation at the end of April, the United Nations confirmed at least 105 have been killed, 3 IDP sites were impacted, and 17 schools have been damaged or destroyed. The United Nations has counted 23 attacks on 20 health facilities, some of them hit twice. 49 have had to suspend their operations due to attacks or insecurity.
Some of the health facilities that were attacked were on the de-conflicted list provided to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Attacks on community hospitals, including specialized maternity centers left thousands without medical care in Aleppo and East Ghouta,” said Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, SAMS President.
“Last year, our medical staff on the ground agreed to share hospital coordinates as part of the UN de-confliction mechanism: The United Nations has a responsibility to protect these hospitals and present a tangible plan to deter such attacks. The people of Syria have the right to know who is attacking and destroying their hospitals.”
Half of the three million people living in Idlib are internally displaced already and have experienced this violence time and again over the course of this conflict. The memory of Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Daraa, is still fresh in their minds, as they fear the latest offensive is only an indicator to the full-scale assault to come.
“Half of Syria’s population has already been displaced by eight years of war, yet the worst may still come,” said Arnaud Quemin, Mercy Corps’ Syria Country Director. “While entire communities were forced to flee and sought shelter in Idlib, three million people there, half of whom are internally displaced already, now fear they will have nowhere to go if war comes again to their doorsteps.”
There is no justification for ongoing attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Parties to the conflict have a legal obligation to protect civilians and spare them from the worst effects of the fighting and to avoid attacking schools, hospitals and homes. Clearly these rules are being violated in northwest Syria today.
In response to the recent alarming chapters of military escalation, we, the undersigned Syrian and international human rights, humanitarian and solidarity organizations, urge all parties to act quickly to ensure the protection of civilians in northwest Syria and compliance with international humanitarian law:
The United Nations Security Council members have a mandate to ensure the protection of civilians and maintain international peace and security. They cannot keep hiding behind divisions in the Council to allow the worst to happen in Idlib, and should exercise all the pressure they can on warring parties to end the hostilities, stop the systematic attacks on civilian infrastructure, and ensure that cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access is facilitated to allow aid agencies to reach all communities in need, in compliance with UNSC resolution 2393.
We also call on UNSC members to work with Turkey and Russia to honor their commitments to the so-called demilitarized zone agreement signed by both parties in September 2018 and implement an immediate ceasefire over the entirety of northwest Syria.
Members of the Security Council should support the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen to engage parties and broker a peaceful resolution of the security situation in Idlib to avert further bloodshed and urge all parties to return to the table to negotiate a political settlement to the conflict.
May 2019 (OCHA, agencies)
Since 28 April, ongoing conflict in northwest Syria between Government of Syria (GoS) forces and its allies and nonstate armed groups (NSAGs) has continued to escalate. On the morning of 8 May, GoS forces began ground operations against NSAGs, impacting on civilian populations, infrastructure and service provision in northern Hama and southern Idleb governorates. There are reports of people being killed and injured as a result of the recent escalation. While information is difficult to verify, unconfirmed reports indicate that more than 120 civilians, including women and children, have been killed, while many others have been injured.
Between 29 April and 9 May, approximately 180,000 individuals fled the fighting, some 164,000 people fled to northern and eastern Idleb Governorate and around 16,000 people to northern and western Aleppo. Of note, there are reports of many communities that have been abandoned as their populations have fled. However, some people have stayed behind, many of whom are vulnerable. Many are dependent on humanitarian services for their daily needs.
There are an estimated 3 million people in the de-escalation zone in Idleb, of these 1.3 million are internally displaced people (IDPs). In the area impacted to date, there are an estimated 2.1 million people (Humanitarian Needs Overview, August 2018).
Many of the population affected have been displaced in the past, for some this has been multiple displacements. As such, their ability to cope is reduced or compromised. The areas that recently displaced people are moving towards are already densely populated – often to areas with camps at full or excess capacity, putting additional strain on services. Reports indicate that rents have increased fivefold - where housing is available - since 1 May.
Impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure
Since the escalation of conflict on 28 April, many civilian structures have been impacted by airstrikes and/or shelling. On 7 May, two primary health care centres in Kafr Nabutha and Algab, both in Madiq Castle Sub-district in Hama Governorate were damaged. On 8 May, the Kafr Zeita Primary Health Centre in Hama Governorate was also damaged, bringing the total number of health facilities reported to be damaged or destroyed to 15 in this period.
Suspension of humanitarian activities
The impact of the recent increase in conflict on the civilian population, civilian infrastructure and the provision of basic service is deeply worrying. Many humanitarian responders have been forced to suspend their activities in the conflict area. Some organizations suspended activities as their premises were damaged, destroyed or rendered unsafe by the violence.
Others have suspended activities in order to keep their staff and beneficiaries safe, or because the beneficiary population has left. As of 8 May, at least 16 humanitarian partners have suspended their operations in areas impacted by conflict.
Feb. 2019
Syria: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights alarmed by upsurge in attacks and civilian casualties in Idlib.
The intensified ground-based bombardment of Idlib and surrounding areas by government forces and their allies in recent weeks, coupled with a series of attacks by non-State actors, has led to numerous civilian casualties and left some one million people, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people, in an extremely vulnerable situation, the UN Human Rights Chief said on Tuesday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on all parties involved, as well as external governments with influence, to ensure that the protection of civilians is held paramount in the planning and execution of all military operations in accordance with international law.
The bombardment of the "demilitarized buffer zone" that includes Idlib and areas of northern Hama and western Aleppo Governorates started to escalate in December 2018 and has further intensified in recent days. At the same time, there has been an increase of infighting amongst non-State actors and in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in areas they control, including by the extremist group, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
"Large numbers of civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people, in Idlib and northern Aleppo are living an intolerable existence," said Bachelet. "They are trapped between the escalation of hostilities and bombardment on the one hand, and, on the other, are forced to live under the extremist rule of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and other extremist fighters who regularly carry out targeted killings, abductions and arbitrary detention."
"I urge all the parties involved to, first and foremost, ensure that civilians themselves, and civilian infrastructure, are protected as required by international humanitarian and international human rights law," the High Commissioner said. "The principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be fully respected, and military objects must not be placed in the vicinity of civilians."
Nov. 2018 (UN News)
A fragile ceasefire between Government forces and opposition fighters has held in Idlib for 10 weeks, guaranteed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, who re-committed to the deal at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, this week said Jan Egeland, co-chair of the International Syria Support Group''s Humanitarian Access Task Force and Senior Advisor of the UN Special Envoy for Syria.
Mr. Egeland, who welcomed the original deal, warned at the time that the alternative – clashes between opposition and Government forces – would cause massive bloodshed and destruction similar to that inflicted on other major cities, including Homs, Aleppo, and Raqqa.
In his last press encounter as co-chair of the humanitarian task force before stepping down, Mr. Egeland offered insight into the difficulties of achieving the mechanism’s two main aims since it was established in early 2016: securing aid access and protecting civilians.
Among its challenges were the fact that towns and villages had been besieged, hundreds of thousands of people had died and 12 million had been driven from their homes during the more than seven-year war, he noted.
Turning to the 23 countries that attended task force meetings in Geneva, Mr. Egeland insisted that “too few acted courageously” to hold back the warring parties’ worst excesses against civilians.
“All hell was let loose on them and no one was willing and able to shield and protect them,” he said, adding nonetheless that “what happened here in Geneva helped cause some of the few really achievements, also in the protection of civilians”.
The task force’s successes included securing aid deliveries to the majority of people in besieged areas in 2016, Mr. Egeland said, compared with only two per cent a year earlier, and organizing the first high-altitude air-drops of aid to besieged people in Deir Ez-Zor in eastern Syria.
In a joint statement released from Astana – where regular meetings have been held since January 2017 – Iran, Russia and Turkey reiterated their support for the UN-backed launch of a Constitutional Committee for Syria in Geneva “that would enjoy support of the Syrian parties…at the soonest possible time”.
Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, who has been leading efforts to form a Constitutional Committee, noted on Thursday that the Astana meeting had achieved “no tangible progress” in resolving a 10-month stalemate on its composition, as had been outlined in Sochi in January this year.
* Children and armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. Of Syria’s 6.2 Million displaced people, 2.6 million are children, roughly 42 percent:

Visit the related web page

Explosive weapons in cities: Civilian devastation and suffering must stop
by ICRC, UN News
Sep. 2019
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, issue a joint appeal.
Idlib and Tripoli are currently enduring untold suffering and destruction from a hail of bombs and shells, joining a long list of cities before them – including most recently Mosul, Aleppo, Raqqa, Taiz, Donetsk, Fallujah and Sana''a.
They rarely make the top headlines, but they should. War in cities cannot be back-page news. In fact, some 50 million people are currently suffering its impacts.
Alarmed at the devastating humanitarian consequences of urban warfare, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations today are jointly appealing to States and all parties to armed conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas.
As the world urbanizes, so does armed conflict. When cities are bombed and shelled – whether by airstrikes, rockets, artillery or improvised explosive devices – civilians overwhelmingly bear the brunt.
In fact, the large majority of casualties – over 90 per cent, according to one estimate – are civilians. The harrowing images from population centres in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine – to name but a few – show a pattern of grave civilian harm impossible to ignore, yet too often forgotten.
Parties to conflict should recognize that they cannot fight in populated areas in the way they would in open battlefields. They must recognize that using explosive weapons with wide area effects in cities, towns, and refugee camps places civilians at high risk of indiscriminate harm.
Armed conflict in cities kills and gravely wounds countless civilians, leaving many with life-long disabilities and psychological trauma.
Infrastructure necessary for the functioning of basic services – water, electricity, sanitation, health care – is damaged or destroyed. This triggers domino effects that exacerbate suffering.
In one of countless examples, last month in Aden, Yemen, at least 200,000 people were left without clean water after intense fighting.
And when water or electricity is disrupted because supply lines have been blown up, providing healthcare becomes extremely difficult or impossible.
Indeed, when cities are bombed and shelled, healthcare is also hard-hit: medical personnel are killed and injured, ambulances can''t reach the wounded, and hospitals are irreparably damaged.
For those who survive, life becomes unbearable – and they are often forced to flee. This past summer, in two months alone, around 100,000 people were displaced due to heavy bombing and shelling in Tripoli.
Displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to risks to their health and lives, especially women and children. In Iraq, 1.5 million internally displaced across the country are unable to go back home. Those who do, struggle to rebuild their lives against all odds; their homes have been destroyed, essential service networks have collapsed, and the threat of explosive remnants of war is everywhere.
The massive destruction caused by armed conflicts in cities can set development indexes back by years and even decades: for example, after the first four years of the armed conflict in Yemen, human development indicators dropped to their index of 20 years ago. This is a major setback to the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Progress gained over decades can be quickly reversed as once lively and prospering population centres turn into ghost towns.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, universally accepted treaties which provide the protective power of international humanitarian law (IHL) when its rules are scrupulously respected. IHL absolutely prohibits directing attacks against civilians or civilian objects, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, indiscriminate weapons, and using civilians as human shields. It requires conflict parties to take steps to minimize incidental civilian harm.
Respect for these rules is all the more critical when armed conflict is waged in populated environments – where military targets and civilians and civilian structures are comingled, and civilians are at great risk of harm.
The inherent vulnerability of civilians in populated areas make it imperative for States to reassess and adapt their choice of weapons and tactics to avoid civilian harm, and to adequately prepare, train and equip their armed forces for this purpose.
States must also exercise influence over their partners and other supported conflict parties to this end. And it is imperative that the protection of civilians is made a strategic priority in the planning and conduct of military operations. Some steps are being taken in this direction, but much more needs to be done, and soon.
A number of initiatives for strengthening civilian protection in urban armed conflict are under way. As a first step, we support the efforts of States to develop a political declaration, as well as appropriate limitations, common standards and operational policies in conformity with IHL relating to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
We further urge States and other stakeholders to strengthen the collection of data on civilian casualties and to establish mechanisms to mitigate and investigate harm to civilians, ensure accountability and draw lessons for future operations.
We encourage States to identify and share good practices for mitigating the risk of civilian harm in urban armed conflict, including restrictions and limitations on the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas, and we undertake to support such good practice exchanges.
We call on all parties to armed conflicts to employ strategies and tactics that take combat outside populated areas to try to reduce urban fighting altogether, and we urge parties to allow civilians to leave besieged areas.
And we appeal to States to adopt policies and practices that will enhance the protection of civilians when warfare takes place in populated areas, including policies and practices to avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects. This will help to mitigate the impact of war on cities and to reduce suffering.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook