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World 'I Feel Like This Is the End': A Million Fleeing Syrians Trapped by Assad's Final Push

23:35  20 february  2020
23:35  20 february  2020 Source:   online.wsj.com

Buoyed by U.S., Erdogan Vows to Expel Syrian Forces From Idlib

  Buoyed by U.S., Erdogan Vows to Expel Syrian Forces From Idlib Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to drive Russian-backed Syrian government forces from the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, escalating his threats against Damascus after being buoyed by rare public support from the U.S. © Photographer: AREF TAMMAWI/AFP A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles passes through the city of Idlib, in northwestern Syria, near the Syria-Turkey border, late on February 7, 2020.

Families flee as frontline closes in. Syrian troops have intensified their push for the country's last major rebel In a symbolic message from Assad ' s government, a Desperation and hopelessness in the midst of shelling: This is what life is like for the millions of civilians trapped in Syria 's Idlib province.

Families flee as frontline closes in. Syrian troops have intensified their push for the country's last major rebel In a symbolic message from Assad ' s government, a Desperation and hopelessness in the midst of shelling: This is what life is like for the millions of civilians trapped in Syria 's Idlib province.

  'I Feel Like This Is the End': A Million Fleeing Syrians Trapped by Assad's Final Push © khalil ashawi/Reuters

Amro Akoush and his family fled their home in northwest Syria with no time to pack a bag and no vehicle to escape the machine-gun fire and falling bombs. Mr. Akoush carried only a son and daughter, one in each arm.

The family walked along darkened streets to the outskirts of Atarib and hid in an olive grove, waiting anxiously for a friend to ferry them away from the barrage. “It took about 40 minutes,” Mr. Akoush said of their escape on foot, “but it felt like a year.”

The Akoush family and nearly a million others have been on the run, unable to find an escape from Syria’s monthslong military assault on the country’s last rebel stronghold. The offensive aims to defeat the remnants of armed opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. So far, it has yielded the largest displacement of people in Syria’s 9-year civil war.

For the first time in 9 years, two nation states are going toe-to-toe in Syria

  For the first time in 9 years, two nation states are going toe-to-toe in Syria Syria's curse, as its conflict rumbles slowly towards its first decade, has always been how new forces enter the war just when it seems that exhaustion might slow everyone down. © Aaref Watad/AFP/Getty Images A Turkish military convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles passes through the Syrian town of Dana, east of the Turkish-Syrian border in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on February 2, 2020. But over the past week, a starker evolution has occurred, one that's been lost amid fatigue around the seemingly endless violence.

‘It’ s Like the End of the World’. At the Turkish border with Syria , tales of the desperation unfolding on The United Nations Humanitarian Affairs office warned on Monday that nearly a million Syrian Russia and the Assad regime escalated their offensive in northwest Syria last night defying criticism

Civilians are fleeing an escalation in fighting between the Syrian military, which is backed by Russia The Syrian regime says it is fighting terrorists. Idlib is home to some 3 million people, a very small “It was not clear before, it is certainly no longer appropriate to trust the Astana group to end the violence

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Families in northwestern Syria are trapped between the advancing Syrian military—backed by Russian airstrikes and pro-Iranian militias—and Turkey. The border is closed to refugees, secured by walls, trenches and guards who have shot people trying to cross without permission.

The military advance, which has forced the flight of some 900,000 people, is shaping up to be the “the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century,” said Mark Lowcock, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.

‘It’s Like the End of the World’

  ‘It’s Like the End of the World’ A slight man in a cotton jacket, carrying a knapsack, shivered in the cold, waiting for the Turkish border gate to Syria to open. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trying to get out of Syria. Yahya Jamal, 21, was trying to get back in. His father had just died, he said. His family had fled their home under bombardment and were sleeping under the trees. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are trying to get out of Syria. Yahya Jamal, 21, was trying to get back in.

“For those Assad supporters in my city, I find it brutal that they dance on our bodies. Those who have been killed by the government are human beings. Today, again backed by Russian airstrikes, Mr Assad ’ s forces are pushing further into the last rebel-held bastion of Idlib and western Aleppo, which

As the number of civilians fleeing Syrian and Russian bombardments in northwestern Syria The Syrian regime says it is fighting terrorists. Idlib is home to some 3 million people, a very small “It was not clear before, it is certainly no longer appropriate to trust the Astana group to end the violence

Mr. Assad’s vow to retake every inch of Syria is now focused on Idlib, a province the size of Delaware, and surrounding rebel-held areas—a stretch of northwest Syria where the remaining opposition forces are concentrated. Nearly 370 people, including 97 children, have died in northwest Syria so far this year, according to the White Helmets, a Syrian civil-defense group operating in opposition-held areas.

“If this goes on,” Mr. Lowcock said, “Idlib will become the world’s biggest pile of rubble, strewn with the corpses of a million children.”

Since escaping their home, the Akoush family has moved five times, trying to outrun airstrikes and advancing forces.

“I feel like this is the end, the army will advance and kill us all and that will be the end of the story,” said Mr. Akoush, 30 years old. “We no longer have hope for anything other than a quick death, that’s it. That’s all we ask for.”

As fighting in Syria intensifies, pressure is rising for US intervention

  As fighting in Syria intensifies, pressure is rising for US intervention As fighting over Syria's last rebel-held stronghold intensifies and puts Turkey in direct conflict with Russia, there is a growing pressure for the U.S. to do something. Nearly one million people have been displaced since December by Syrian President Bashar al Assad's offensive into the Idlib province, backed by Russian air power and Iranian-commanded forces. Relief organizations are struggling to respond to the overwhelming need amid freezing temperatures and a lack of basic resources -- like tents.

It feels like my life hit a new low,' he told the BBC. ' I don't know what to do. I have no-one to advise me on Cambodian officials said Syrians could be turned away if they failed to meet 'requirements' like having 'In the end I can't blame anyone, this is our fate. We caused this problem to ourselves,' he

Syrian President Bashar al- Assad has said the bombing of eastern Aleppo, which his forces " This is the price sometimes, but at the end , the people are liberated from the terrorists Both countries and Iran are now pushing for peace talks to be held later this month in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country houses nearly four million Syrian refugees, has threatened to launch a full attack on Syrian government forces if Mr. Assad doesn’t halt the military offensive. Turkey has sent more than 10,000 troops and more than 2,000 pieces of artillery, tanks and armored vehicles into Idlib, Turkish media has reported. Turkey reported 16 soldiers killed, including two Thursday in airstrikes.

“An operation in Idlib is imminent,” Mr. Erdogan said Wednesday in a televised speech. “We are counting down, we are issuing our final warnings.”

Mr. Assad has dismissed Turkey’s threats. “The battle to liberate the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib will continue regardless of some empty sound bubbles coming from the north,” he said Monday, according to Syrian state media. “The battle for liberating all Syrian soil, crushing terrorism, and achieving stability will also continue.”

The Syrian government has characterized the civil war as a fight against terrorists, a term it applies to all who oppose the regime.

Turkish officials said that although Mr. Erdogan was preoccupied by the risk of an attack on Syrian troops, he was far more worried about the political storm at home if millions more Syrian refugees began streaming into Turkey.

Syria’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in its 9-year civil war is now unfolding

  Syria’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in its 9-year civil war is now unfolding Bashar al-Assad is trying to reclaim Idlib, the last rebel stronghold. Millions of civilians are paying the price.The fear that something bad will happen is ever-present in Idlib, now the last opposition-held province in Syria. The Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia in the air and pro-Iranian militias on the ground, is laying siege to the province in an attempt to take it back.

Mr. Erdogan warned that if he opened Turkey’s border with Syria, he wouldn’t keep refugees and migrants from heading to Europe. In 2016, Turkey reached a deal with European states to curb illegal migration to the bloc. If Turkey opens its doors, Europe could experience another migration wave

Turkey, which backs many rebel factions, sent a delegation Monday to Russia for talks about a cease-fire agreement. On Wednesday, Moscow and Ankara said the negotiations haven’t yielded an agreement.

Amid the political standoff, the crisis in northwest Syria worsens by the day. The United Nations and aid groups are struggling to deliver emergency help, but they can’t keep pace with the growing number of displaced people needing food and shelter.

For many, the walls of what the U.N. describes as the world’s largest refugee camp are closing in.

The regime’s military offensive during Syria’s freezing winter means people who manage to escape the bullets and shells still aren’t safe from the cold. Winter temperatures fall to the 30s and 40s overnight. Without enough tents, many sleep in the open. At least seven children have frozen to death in recent weeks, international aid groups said.

One father trekked about a mile through frigid weather to a hospital, clutching 18-month-old Iman Laila to his chest, trying to keep her warm. The family was staying at a shelter in an open storefront. The man thought he could save her, said Housam Adnan, a doctor at the hospital, but “he was carrying her dead body.”

Children Freeze to Death as Attack Prompts Largest Exodus of Syrian War

  Children Freeze to Death as Attack Prompts Largest Exodus of Syrian War The baby wasn’t moving. Her body had gone hot, then cold. Her father rushed her to a hospital, going on foot when he could not find a car, but it was too late. require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.getMedianetNativeAds(true); }); At 18 months, Iman Leila had frozen to death.In the half-finished concrete shell that had been home since they ran for their lives across northwest Syria, the Leila family had spent three weeks enduring nighttime temperatures that barely rose above 20.

Dr. Adnan fears many more cases like this will emerge in the hilly borderlands of northern Syria. The region has been replete with tent camps for years. Now, tents, lean-tos and tarps sprout in every direction, temporary shelters that provide little defense against winter.

The family of Mrash Shahoud fled their home three months ago and eventually moved into a tent camp near the Syria-Turkey border. The family of seven struggled to keep warm on the frozen ground. Inside their tent, they had a thin carpet, four small foam mattresses and a few blankets.

It wasn’t enough for 3-year-old Ahmed, the youngest child. By the time Ms. Shahoud headed to the closest hospital, the toddler’s skin was gray and cold to the touch. Doctors couldn’t save him. “God’s will had been realized, and my child was already dead,” said Ms. Shahoud, 44.

She wrapped the body in a donated blanket to bury. The cemetery grave is a small mound of dirt surrounded by rocks. A broken piece of tile serves as a headstone, where the child’s name is written in fading blue marker.

By the time Ms. Shahoud returned to her tent, the aid group managing the camp had left the family a heater.

“When you see the children freezing to death, you burn your own clothes to warm them,” said Amun Ahmed, a 53-year-old grandmother of 11. She, her children and grandchildren crowd a classroom in a school building being used as a refuge. They were given a wood-burning stove but can’t afford firewood. “We try as much as we can not to burn the children’s clothes,” she said. Some people buy bags of used clothes, about 30 cents a pound, to burn for heat.

For Syrians fleeing Idlib, Turkish border wall becomes symbol of their plight

  For Syrians fleeing Idlib, Turkish border wall becomes symbol of their plight When Hassan Mighlaj's family ran from the bombs battering their village in northwest Syria, they came up against a wall: an imposing gray concrete wall, crowned with barbed wire and spanning the border with Turkey to block their way in. © Reuters/KHALIL ASHAWI Internally displaced Syrian children walk near the wall in Atmah IDP camp, located near the border with Turkey So Mighlaj is building a small hut with cement blocs along the wall for shelter. "We have nowhere left but the wall because there's no space. And I want my children to stay close to me," the 45-year-old construction worker told Reuters.

Even with the Turkish border closed, fleeing Syrians continue to head there, in the hope that it is safer. In one tent camp, a mural evokes the Hans Christian Andersen story of a girl freezing to death. “Over one million children in Idlib are facing the same fate of The Little Match Girl. SAVE THEM,” reads the mural, done by Kesh Malek, a Syrian civil society organization.

Graffiti appears on parts of the barbed-wire topped cement wall that Turkey has erected along its 550-mile border. “Open humanitarian corridors,” is one message in Arabic. Another, in Turkish, said: “Don’t shoot, we’re not enemies.”

About half of the nearly four million people living in northwest Syria, which in addition to Idlib province includes small parts of neighboring Aleppo province, have been displaced from elsewhere.

Vehicles move bumper to bumper away from the front lines of Idlib and Aleppo. Most have no clear destination other than escaping the immediate threat of bombing. The line grows each day. Pickup trucks are piled high with possessions. Roads, too, are targets for airstrikes, and entire families have been killed en route.

Parents, helpless to protect their children, try to reduce the psychological toll. Abdullah Mohammad taught his 3-year-old daughter Salwa to laugh when she hears an airstrike’s explosion. In a posted video now gone viral, the ruddy-faced girl breaks into peals of laughter at the sound of an airstrike.

Mr. Mohammad’s eyes widen for a second, and he turns to his daughter: “It makes you laugh, doesn’t it?” Between chuckles, she answers, “Yeah.”

The family escaped from Saraqib, which was captured by regime forces this month. They moved into a friend’s house near the Turkish border, where nearby airstrikes continue.

Mr. Mohammad, 32, struggles to hide his fear of the bombardments: “Of course it’s not something that’s funny at all. It’s horrible,” he said. “Maybe the bomb will fall on top of us. But at least we’ll die while laughing.”

Despite acute risk of refugee crisis, humanitarian disaster, UN, US not taking action

  Despite acute risk of refugee crisis, humanitarian disaster, UN, US not taking action Despite the growing risk of a refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster in Syria, the United Nations Security Council and the U.S. are not taking action. It's an unprecedented situation, even after the country's nine years of war. Nearly one million people, including over half a million children, have now been displaced since Assad's offensive started in December. He and his allied forces have targeted schools and hospitals -- just this week -- with an attack Thursday on Turkish forces who are backing the Syrian opposition, threatening to erupt into greater violence.

Syria’s opposition rebels at one time controlled nearly half of the country and Idlib was a stronghold of both the armed and peaceful opposition to the Assad regime. Rebels in Idlib envisioned the province as a foothold in their push to take control of the entire country.

Instead, rebels and antigovernment activists have been forced from one area after another over the past few years, retreating from the regime’s scorched-earth offensive—the use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons, the targeting of hospitals and clinics. Many ended up in the northwest corner of Syria, knowing that regime forces would arrive there one day.

In September 2018, Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire agreement for Idlib to forestall a military offensive. The deal required that an extremist militant group with ties to al Qaeda withdraw from a demilitarized buffer zone along the front line. The group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, instead expanded areas of control in the province last year.

The Syrian government, with the backing of Russia, responded with a military assault that intensified in early December.

As in previous Syrian military campaigns, hospitals, medical workers and emergency responders in rebel-held territory have come under attack, part of a regime’s strategy to weaken resistance, forcing surrender and withdrawal.

In the past week, eight medical facilities have been damaged from airstrikes; seven of them have had to suspend operations, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports medical work in northern Syria.

Rebel fighter Naeem Uthman, 30, spent years battling Syrian regime forces in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta before deciding to leave his home after the opposition was defeated there.

As the regime completed its takeover of Ghouta in early 2018, residents questioned those headed for Idlib instead of surrendering. Mr. Uthman said.

“They would question why we would go there if these areas would also eventually be taken over by the regime and face battles,” he said, speaking not far from the front line in Idlib. “But we suffered a lot, and we have a hatred against the regime and we won’t back down.”

Mr. Uthman, his wife and their three young children have moved six times while living in Idlib, fleeing attacks. His eldest child, Habiba, 6, has since birth known nothing but a life on the run, he said. The family has been living for three weeks in an unfinished second-floor apartment without windows or doors.

When Habiba now hears the sound of fighter planes overhead, she turns to her mother: “Come on, Mama, pack our things, let’s leave.”

Write to Raja Abdulrahim at raja.abdulrahim@wsj.com

Despite acute risk of refugee crisis, humanitarian disaster, UN, US not taking action .
Despite the growing risk of a refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster in Syria, the United Nations Security Council and the U.S. are not taking action. It's an unprecedented situation, even after the country's nine years of war. Nearly one million people, including over half a million children, have now been displaced since Assad's offensive started in December. He and his allied forces have targeted schools and hospitals -- just this week -- with an attack Thursday on Turkish forces who are backing the Syrian opposition, threatening to erupt into greater violence.

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