“His security lies in the fact that he leaves the areas of the armed groups and goes to the official crossings that the government opened,” said the Syrian army pamphlet. The three crossings will open Monday, and transportation and medical help will be available, the message continued, while army units would soon be deployed to “clean” the area.
The warning was issued the day a ceasefire negotiated by Turkey and Russia came into effect, as Russia and its allies promised to stop the airstrikes. Russia has been the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with Iran, during the war, which began in 2011 as a revolt against the government.
Turkey supports some rebel groups operating in Idlib and its surroundings in the province of Aleppo. However, the main power in the area is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist group that has changed its brand for years in an attempt to distance itself from its al-Qaeda roots.
The ceasefire is the last of a series of broken truces, and few expect the respite to last.
The artillery fire continued on Monday, the head of the Idlib branch of the Syrian Civil Defense, a voluntary organization better known as the White Helmets, told The Washington Post. “Today we have a martyr,” said Mustafa Hajj Youssef, as a result of the artillery fired in the southern Idlib camp. Several were injured Sunday after the ceasefire came into effect, he added.
Backed by Russian planes, Syrian forces hit cities in the rebel stronghold of the northwest in recent weeks, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. At least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes since mid-December, the United Nations estimated last week.
On Sunday afternoon, Russia said civilians can leave the de-escalation area in Idlib through the three new checkpoints, Russia’s Interfax news agency said. The de-escalation zone refers to a demilitarized area established after an agreement negotiated by Russia, Turkey and Iran in 2017.
An offensive led by Syria is not the only crisis looming over Idlib: over the weekend, the United Nations Security Council renewed a resolution that allows cross-border assistance, but halved the term of the mandate.
In recent years, Idlib has become the government landfill to relocate civilians and combatants from former rebel-controlled areas. He repeatedly stacked people on buses and sent them to the province.
“There is no Idlib for Idlib” is a phrase that is repeated frequently when discussing the humanitarian cost of a military offensive in the area, because there is no place that can absorb the flow of those displaced there.
The reauthorization of the UN cross-border assistance operation, which had lasted six years, was put to the vote in December. He was vetoed by Russia and China, another supporter of the Assad government. On Friday, the reauthorization resolution was again put to the vote, with amendments. Only two of the four designated border crossings, both located on the Turkish-Syrian border, were reauthorized, and only for six months. The other two crosses, on the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, were abandoned.
People in northwestern Syria are already suffering from extreme cold, and thousands live in open fields, Save the Children said in a statement. “Indeed, what the Security Council says with the reduction of the resolution is that the policy of the Member States is more important than providing children with a roof to sleep, enough food to eat, an education or the ability to simply feel insurance, “said Janti Soeripto, president and CEO of the organization.
The International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental aid organization, warned that the elimination of the Yaroubiya crossing along the border with Iraq “will immediately stop critical medical supplies and interrupt at least half of the health response in the northeast of Syria. “
Asser Khattab in Beirut contributed to this report.