Before civil war devastated Syria, the northwestern province of Idlib was known for its olive groves and the abandoned but well-preserved archaeological remains of the so-called Dead Cities.
Now the province could soon be filled with dead bodies.
In the years since fighting erupted in 2011, Idlib became the largest rebel-held territory in the northern part of the country, and it remains home to many of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s most implacable foes.
Now, with opposition forces facing defeat in other parts of Syria, the regime has turned its sights on Idlib.
The estimated two million people living there face a grim choice: Stay and risk being killed in the fighting, or flee towards the Turkish border to the north in the brutal Idlib winter with no shelter.
More than 130,000 people have opted for the latter, according to figures provided last week by the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. The exodus came as the regime’s elite Tiger Forces, backed by a ferocious barrage of air strikes and shelling, advanced hundreds of square miles in recent weeks and stormed dozens of rebel-held villages.
Hundreds have been killed as trapped civilians have nowhere to run under the relentless bombs of Russian and Syrian fighter jets. In a seemingly eerie repeat of the regime massacre of Aleppo in 2016, air strikes have taken out nearly all hospitals in the province, forcing people to take the injured to makeshift hospitals.
While the intensity and savagery of the attacks are much similar to what had happened in Aleppo, unfortunately, the world has fallen silent again, offering only weak warnings over the bloodbath that is unfolding. We must not fall silent and voice our outrage over these barbaric attacks on civilians, women and children — not only in Idlib but also in rebel-held Damascus suburbs of Ghouta, where children have died from starvation amid a crippling government siege.
While the world is busy covering United States President Donald Trump, the #MeToo campaign, and other disasters, we must not forget Syria — a disaster that has unfolded in front of our eyes for seven straight years now. We must remember that the consequences for the people there have wide-ranging repercussions. Europe saw this first-hand as millions of refugees paddled to its shores and trekked its terrain in search of a better life.
We must hold Russia and the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backers to account for war crimes if there is ever to be a lasting and just peace and resolution to the conflict.