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The Tragic Irony of Unlawful Attacks on Civilians in Syria’s De-Escalation Zones

Hospitals, Schools in These Zones Bombed Despite Cease Fire

Syria Civil Defence members search for survivors after an airstrike in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria Janauary 9, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

As the world was getting ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve, a video was posted on social media of a man carrying his young son in Idlib, Syria, while a woman desperately tries to shake the boy awake. The child was reportedly killed by one of the dozens of Syrian government-Russian airstrikes that have hit parts of Idlib and Hama since late December.

After seven years of conflict, the death of a child in Syria is no longer a surprise. Civilians die in indiscriminate attacks almost daily. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this conflict is the little done to protect civilians.

Take Idlib. Despite being a “de-escalation zone” where a ceasefire should be in place, the recent offensive is not the first time Idlib governorate – which is controlled by extremist group Hay’et Tahrir Al-Sham – has been subject to relentless attacks. The world however has remained largely silent, about the risk to civilians there, conveniently forgetting that an estimated 2.65 million people are trapped in North-western Syria. Close to half these people have been displaced, according to the UN, and now thousands are stuck at the Turkish border, unable to escape what residents tell me is “certain death.”

In a second “de-escalation zone,” Eastern Ghouta, civilian deathss from indiscriminate attacks are also the norm. The besieged Damascus suburb is held by anti-government groups and was the site of the worst chemical attack in the conflict. There too, the Syrian government and Russia are regularly bombing schools, hospitals, and homes while refusing to allow much-needed aid in. Last weekend, residents reported five children dead in a strike that killed 17 civilians.

A spike in attacks on hospitals in both Eastern Ghouta and Idlib has heightened people’s suffering.

In the fight against the extremist armed group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), the US and US-led coalition have also killed civilians instead of just fighters, and drastically undercounted civilian death rates from these attacks reflect a rush to defeat extremists.

With the defeat of ISIS, people are saying the Syria conflict is “winding down,” calling the de-escalation zones a “success.” The reality in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta could not be more different. These indiscriminate airstrikes, chemical weapon use, and other atrocities have battered both the population and the guiding principle that civilians are to be protected during war. Unless protecting civilians is prioritized, the “winding down” of the conflict will bring rampant destruction and devastating human loss.

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