Aid groups say conditions in Syria’s Idlib at crisis point

The European Union extends sanctions against Syria’s Assad regime for a year due to its continued crackdown against civilians.
Friday 17/05/2019
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence group known as the White Helmets is seen searching for victims under the rubble of a house that was destroyed by a Syrian regime airstrike, in Ras el-Ain village, Idlib, May 7.  (White Helmets via AP)
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence group known as the White Helmets is seen searching for victims under the rubble of a house that was destroyed by a Syrian regime airstrike, in Ras el-Ain village, Idlib, May 7. (White Helmets via AP)

BEIRUT — Dozens of international aid groups warned Friday that humanitarian conditions in Syria’s northwest have reached a new “crisis point,” as government troops push to retake the rebels’ last stronghold.

The violence has effectively shattered a cease-fire negotiated by Russia and Turkey, in place since September. Russia has firmly backed President Bashar Assad’s government in the eight-year civil war, while Turkey has supported rebel factions.

In their appeal issued Friday, some 70 aid groups called for an immediate end to the fighting. They said that the violence has displaced an estimated 180,000 people in the last two weeks alone. The rebel enclave, which stretches between northern Hama and most of Idlib provinces, is home to 3 million people.

The violence has forced at least 16 humanitarian organisations to suspend their operations in the region, the groups added. The staff were either displaced themselves or the facilities came under attack.

Physicians for Human Rights said it has verified that over the last four weeks Syrian government forces and their Russian allies have carried out nine attacks on hospitals and medical facilities.

The aid groups said that at least 15 health facilities and 16 schools were reported to have been significantly damaged or destroyed. At least two health workers were killed.

The groups said at least four clearly identified humanitarian posts were targeted, condemning the “failure” to observe international law.

In a statement, Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council, meeting Friday, to pressure Russia over the “deliberate” targeting of health and education facilities and ending the “onslaught” against civilians.

“Bombing hospitals carrying out their medical functions is a war crime,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s director of research for the Middle East. Maalouf said it was part of a “well-established” pattern by the Syrian government and its allies.

“The international community has so far utterly failed to protect civilians in Syria from the horrors of this conflict,” she said.

Staff from four hospitals in Idlib and Hama told Amnesty International that they had been targeted despite sharing their coordinates with the Syrian and Russian governments.

In fighting Friday, activists and insurgents said government forces attempted to push into a new village in western Hama but were repelled.

EU extends sanctions against Assad’s Syria regime for year

The European Union is prolonging sanctions against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad for a year due to its continued crackdown against civilians in the war-ravaged country.

EU headquarters said Friday that the 28-nation bloc “decided to maintain its restrictive measures against the Syrian regime and its supporters as the repression of civilian population continues.”

It means that 270 people and 70 entities like companies or organizations will have travel bans and asset freezes against them extended until June 1, 2020. The sanctions are due to alleged violence against civilians, benefiting from or supporting the regime, or being associated with people who do.

The EU has also imposed an oil embargo on Syria and bans equipment that could be used in a crackdown on Syrian civilians.

(AP)