Idlib Province: Rebels and Regime Inflame Tensions, Civilians Suffer
As the last significant rebel stronghold in Syria, Idlib province has come regarded as a major focal point of the ongoing Syrian conflict by the media and various national governments. Importantly, there is an array of rebel factions, which include Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Nasr, Liwa al-Haq, Ansar al-Din and Nour al-Din al-Zinki, currently based in the province. Such factions have joined together in efforts against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, though it is not uncommon for these ad-hoc alliances to fracture.
In any case, the Assad regime has defeated many such groups in other parts of Syria, and has reclaimed control over a significant portion of the nation. In large part, as noted by The Wall Street Journal, this was made possible by instrumental assistance from Russia and Iran. Notably, such assistance has been provided in Idlib, as tactical assaults on the province have already commenced. The Assad regime recently achieved a major objective through this military action, retaking the Abu al-Duhur military airbase, which was captured by rebels in 2015.
While it is not far-fetched to envision that such developments will hasten the end of the broader conflict, the effects of these military actions in Idlib province increasingly plague Syrian civilians who happen to reside in the rebel hotbed. These effects particularly intensified after Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, one of the aforementioned rebel groups, claimed responsibility for a missile attack carried out upon a Russian fighter jet. The pilot ejected from his jet alive, but purportedly detonated a grenade to take his own life and avoid capture by any rebel forces.
Following that fatal incident, Russian air strikes against cities such as Kafr Nubl, Maasran, Saraqeb, and the provincial capital Idlib, which are all within the bounds of Idlib province, intensified. According to one report, soft targets such as hospitals and residential buildings continue to bear the brunt of the attacks. In cities such as those mentioned above, “several deaths and dozens of injuries” have been reported. In one instance, a five-story residential building was destroyed, leading to fear that at least fifteen people have perished as a result.
In Khan al Subl, where the Russian jet was downed, “at least 10 people, including children” were killed shortly after news of the rebel-orchestrated attack began to spread. Furthermore, the UN News Centre has reported that UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, in briefing the UN Security Council, relayed that allegations of the use of chemical weapons in attacks in Idlib province continue to be put forth. She highlighted accounts that featured allegations of a chemical attack that occurred in Saraqeb this past weekend. Such military assaults should be concerning given the fact that, in addition to being the last rebel stronghold, Idlib is also a heavily populated region.
It has been estimated that upwards of 1.1 million people reside in the province. Thus, even as Syrian, Russian, and Iranian leaders claim to target only rebels and militants, it is quite unlikely that such preciseness can ever be achieved. Many of the tactics employed are indiscriminate and the burgeoning civilian population that resides in Idlib province continues to suffer the consequences. Whether considering those who came to the province in order to escape violence in other parts of the country, or those who have always lived in Idlib, the level of disregard for these noncombatants cannot go unnoticed. Such civilians cannot be forgotten, or simply deemed collateral damage.