The New York Times
The New York Times 18 May 2020

These Syrians Found Refuge. Then Came More Bombs.


Millions of Syrians have fled to Idlib Province seeking safety. During a rare reporting trip, The Times found that President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies are still bombing them.

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Maryam al-Khawaja - Bahraini human rights activist
Iyad el-Baghdadi - Founder, Arab Tyrant Manual; President, Kawaakibi Foundation
Ayala Panievsky, Media researcher; University of Cambridge
Hussein Ibish - Arab Gulf States Institute

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… show captions ↓
Idlib Province, in the northwest corner of Syria,
is home to one of the biggest displacement
crises in the world.
In March, a small window between a cease-fire
and the start of the coronavirus pandemic,
gave us a rare chance to see what
was happening on the ground.
We found a landscape battered by airstrikes, and people
with nowhere left to hide —
indiscriminately bombed in tents, schools
and on the road.
Among them are Rawda al-Bakour and her family,
who fled their home to this poultry farm.
But moving here didn’t spare them from the bombs.
Even as families began to flee in
March 2019, at the start of a new offensive
to retake Idlib, Syrian and Russian warplanes
bombed them scores of times, killing around 200 people.
Two of the worst strikes were in Maarat Misrin,
a town near the front line of this conflict,
now in its 10th year.
Like the rest of Idlib, it’s a mix
of rebels and jihadists, overworked doctors and people
trying to survive.
On Feb. 25, the neighborhoods
surrounding the town’s hospital
came under attack, including a school across the street.
It was hosting dozens of displaced families
when an explosion sprayed shrapnel
across the courtyard.
Fadila Zarifa is a nurse who treated the wounded.
Nine days later, on March 5, there
would be another attack in Maarat Misrin.
This one on the poultry farm, where Rawda al-Bakour’s
family had taken up home.
It was just after 2 a.m. when a warplane
made its first strike on the isolated farm
around a mile outside town.
Over the radio, flight observers
warned rescuers that a Russian warplane
was circling overhead.
Rawda’s wasn’t the only family that had found shelter
on the farm.
One of their neighbors, Salem Qteish,
was trapped under rubble by the first strike.
Rescuers pulled Salem’s brother, Muhammad,
out from the rubble.
Salem and his brother were badly wounded.
Salem’s mother, father and two daughters didn’t make it.
Sixteen people were killed, and around 35 wounded.
The Times has documented 33 airstrikes
on displaced people in northwest Syria
since March 2019, when the offensive began.
But the actual number of attacks
is probably much higher.
Around 1,800 civilians in the northwest
have been killed in the past year,
in shelling and airstrikes.
“That was definitely Syrian.”
“As long as it missed us.”
Only Syrian and Russian jets are
bombing these parts of Idlib.
It’s an attempt to retake the last pocket of opposition
to President Bashar al-Assad.
Indiscriminate and reckless bombing like this
may be a war crime.
But just hours after the strike
on the poultry farm on March 5, it was Russia and Turkey,
which keeps hundreds of troops in Idlib,
signing a cease-fire in Moscow.
That cease-fire has held, but it’s not
a solution for millions of displaced families.
Formal and informal camps here have swelled.
And families are living in packed tents
without running water, health care or reliable food.
They’re an indefinitely displaced population,
unable to flee any farther.
And if the cease-fire breaks, under siege again.
Rawda’s family still lives where they were bombed.

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