Thousands of Idlib residents wait in makeshift camps as fighting clears out ‘entire villages’

AMMAN: Thousands of civilians are now living in makeshift refugee camps along the southern border of opposition-held Idlib province after a rebel offensive in nearby government-held Hama province ended a fragile Russian-backed truce in northwest Syria, sources on the ground tell Syria Direct.

“Entire villages are nearly empty,” Abu Fajr, a local council member in Arafa, a village 10km from the frontlines in a rebel-controlled section of northern Hama province, told Syria Direct on Wednesday. "More than 5,000 people have left Arafa alone in the last 48 hours."

This most recent wave of displacement comes after rebels belonging to the Islamist Ha’yat Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) faction that rules much of Idlib province launched a new offensive on Tuesday “to demolish and defeat” the terms of peace negotiations that took place in Astana, Kazakhstan on Friday, an anonymous HTS source told Syria Direct on Tuesday. The rebel offensive claims to have captured and held three villages in northern Hama at time of publication.

The damage from a Wednesday airstrike on a hospital in the village of a-Tah in Idlib province. Photo courtesy Omar Haj Kadour/AFP.

For its part, Syrian state media outlet SANA reported on Tuesday that the Syrian Arab Army thwarted a major rebel attack on northern Hama province, adding that clashes were “ongoing” in the area.

Hours after rebels launched their offensive—dubbed “Oh Servants of God, Be Steadfast”—on Tuesday, regime and Russian forces responded with at least 40 airstrikes on nearby rebel-held villages and towns, hitting three hospitals and killing six civilians, said Mamdooh al-Ahmad, a Civil Defense spokesman in rural southern Idlib province.

“Yesterday, I couldn’t sleep at night with the sound of bombs falling,” said Abu Hamza, a Kafr Nobl resident who fled to the southeastern Idlib village of Sinjar some 30km from the frontlines early Tuesday morning.

“This is the second time I’ve been displaced—to be honest, I’ve gotten used to this.”

The Sinjar local council says it has received 400 displaced families since the fighting resumed Tuesday morning, Muhannad, one of the council’s members told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

“There aren’t enough tents to go around and people are gathering under trees,” said Muhannad. “Sometimes two family members live together in the same tent—we just don’t have the ability to provide anything for them.”

Sinjar is relatively distant from the front lines of Wednesday’s ground clashes, and contains a number of camps for displaced Syrians, Muhannad told Syria Direct. From Sinjar, the displaced can regroup and continue further north.

However, at least three airstrikes struck Sinjar on Wednesday, says Muhannad.

“The situation is disastrous. I don’t know where people can go—there’s just no safe place for them to go.”

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.