The Syrian Government’s forces, under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad, have shelled the rebel-held city of Idlib in the North West region of Syria. On Thursday 4th April, the artillery attacks were reported to have struck a market in Kafr Nabl, marking the latest violence to threaten a seven-month-old brokered truce formulated by Russia and Turkey. After recent claims for hope in Syria due to the defeat of ISIS, the attacks led by the Assad regime and Iran-backed militias mark a clear hurdle to any advancement towards peaceful relations in the region.
According to Obada Dhikra, the director of the Syria Civil Defence also known as the White Helmets, the attack killed over 12 civilians, whilst many more remain severely injured or wounded. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, commented that the latest outburst of the Syrian Government’s attacks, also killed a further 17 civilians in the North West region after aerial attacks on Kafr Nabl, Maarrat al-Nu’man, Saraqib Hama’s Kafz Zita and the village of Khan al-Sabil, since Wednesday 3rd April, according to local sources. The UK organisation claimed that over half of the civilians that lost their lives were under the age of 18. Meanwhile, the UN has claimed that the escalating violence seriously threatens humanitarian aid reaching over 2.7 million that require assistance.
The attacks highlight the severity of the current political climate in Syria. Despite the press granting a great deal of attention to the defeat of ISIS’s remaining territory just last month, brutal violence from Assad’s aerial attacks continue to threaten civilian areas. While the defeat of ISIS’s territory is a step forward to improving relations in Syria, granting too much attention to the group’s defeat ignores the historical and political context in Syria that predated ISIS’s demise. Before the terrorist group took centre stage in news coverage on the conflict, the Assad regime perpetrated appalling human rights abuses on its civilians, whilst currently – irrespective of ISIS’s defeat – the Assad regime continues its massacre of Syrian civilians. Without dismissing the defeat of ISIS, the Assad regime’s continuing annihilation of the Syrian population breaches both the Geneva Convention and violates numerous international human rights laws. Plus, in breaching a seven-month-old truce in an attempt to regain territory and power over the North-West Region, the Syrian Government jeopardise any slither of progress gained in moving toward more peaceful relations in the region.
In September 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President, Vladimir Putin, agreed to make Idlib a demilitarized zone in which acts of violent aggression would be prohibited. Yet, in January 2019 the region was overtaken by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by former members of Al-Qaeda. Subsequently, the Russian-Turkey truce has undergone increasing assault. Addressing a crowd at a news conference in Damascus on 4th April, Walid al-Mouallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, accused Turkey of failing to honour its commitments to ensuring the withdrawal of armed groups in the demilitarized zone, declaring the regime’s growing impatience in regaining the Idlib region. The North West region is populated by around 3 million Syrian people, however, the UN estimates that 86,500 have fled their homes in February and March 2019 due to escalating violence.
The Assad regime and its allies must be held accountable for the continuing annihilation of Syrian civilians, resulting from the merciless use of artillery attacks on civilian areas. In order to prevent future violence, Turkey, Russia and Syria must communicate an agreement to ensure the demilitarized zone serves to prohibit acts of violent aggression against fighters and civilians. Guaranteeing a non-violent demilitarized zone and attempting to launch a series of peace talks could facilitate improving relations been all parties in the region, however, in the current political context this seems an unlikely development. Artillery attacks of this kind further to restrict the possibility of peace and security in Syria, now and in the future, as breaching the conditions of the truce has led to a destructive continuation of violence in the region.