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Syria Uses Familiar Tactic: Breaking People’s Will by Bombing them

Syria Uses Familiar Tactic: Breaking People’s Will by Bombing them

Friday, 7 June, 2019 - 09:30
This photo provided by the Syrian Defense White Helmets shows a civil defense worker carrying a child after shelling hit a street in the town of Nairab, in the eastern province of Idlib, Syria, Apr. 7, 2019. AP
Asharq Al-Awsat
The father could hardly bear seeing his 18-month-old daughter's panic every time the Syrian regime warplanes flew over their home. Every day for a month, she ran to him to hide in his arms, tearful and breathless.

Abdurrahim had refused to flee his hometown throughout years of violence, and he was determined to hold out through the new, intensified government offensive launched in April against Idlib province, the last significant territory held by Syria's opposition.

But now he had his first child, Ruwaida, to think about.

"That look on my daughter's face ... is really what is going to kill me," said the 25-year-old Abdurrahim, who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons.

His determination collapsed when an airstrike on May 30 pulverized the house next door, crushing to death three children, one of them a girl Ruwaida's age. He whisked his daughter and wife to a nearby village, hoping it would be safe.

The Syrian government and its Russian backer have turned to a familiar tactic in their assault on Idlib — relentlessly and systematically striking residential areas, hospitals, markets and infrastructure to break the will of the population and pressure people to flee, according to observers, rights groups and residents.

It's a tried-and-true method that worked for Bashar Assad's forces in their previous, destructive campaigns that retook the city of Aleppo in 2016 and other strategic territories.

Striking civilians with impunity has been so characteristic of the 8-year civil war that it rarely even raises much international outrage or attention. Monitors say the pattern of strikes clearly show that, far from being collateral damage, civilian homes, businesses and infrastructure are intentional targets of the regime.

"Even wars have rules," said Misty Buswell, the Middle East advocacy director for the International Rescue Committee, adding that two hospitals it supports were hit by airstrikes. In this war, she said, attacks on civilians "have happened with absolute impunity."

The impact has been brutal in the opposition enclave centered on Idlib in northwest Syria on the border with Turkey. Some 3 million people are bottled up there, more than half of them displaced from other parts of the country recaptured by the military.

The Syrian military launched its assault in April, backed by government and Russian airstrikes. It has focused on the enclave's southern edges, taking a few villages and bombarding deeper into Idlib.

Bombing "targets everything: bakeries, hospitals, markets. The aim is to stop all services to civilians. Everything," Wasel Aljirk, a surgeon whose hospital was blasted by strikes, told the Associated Press.

Five weeks of violence has driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes. Many are living under olive trees, in tents or unfinished buildings, cramming in overcrowded shared rooms. Aid groups fear that figure could spiral to 700,000 displaced.

More than 300 civilians have been killed, according to opposition activists and war monitors. At least 61 children are among those killed since April, according to Save the Children, though Idlib health authorities put the figure at 75 children killed in May alone.

Diana Samaan, a Syria researcher with Amnesty International, said homes are targeted as a "tactic to pressure civilians to succumb." Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher with Human Rights Watch, said her group and others have "documented enough strikes on residential buildings to at least indicate an appearance of unlawful approach."

Hospitals and clinics have been systematically bombarded, some of them hit more than once even though the UN identifies many to the Syrian government as health centers.

At least 32 hospitals and health facilities around the enclave have been put out of service, either because they were struck or suspended their operations for fear of being hit, Mustafa al-Eido from the Idlib health authority said Thursday.

The south Idlib region most directly under attack does not have a single health facility left, after all 16 there were hit by airstrikes or stopped working, al-Eido said. That has put an extra burden on those in other parts of Idlib and forced long journeys on patients, said Mohammed Katoub of the Syrian-American Medical Society, which supports services in the area.

Bombings are so frequent that many hospitals are built buried into the sides of hills for protection, known as "cave hospitals."

Physicians for Human Rights has said the war in Syria has seen the most widespread and systematic assault on health care documented in the world to date. It has counted at least 566 attacks on health facilities since the start of the war, mostly by government forces or their allies.

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