Northwest Syria – Flash Update (As of 11 April 2017) [EN/AR]

Highlights

  • Hostilities in the northern countryside of Hama increased significantly after a large-scale offensive was launched by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) on 21 March

  • The fighting resulted in the displacement of over 50,000 individuals within Hama governorate, and to nearby governorates, including 12,505 individuals who fled to Idleb Governorate

  • At least two alleged chemical attacks were reported, including one attack on a hospital in Latmana town on 25 March, and an attack on Khan Shaykun town on 4 April, resulting in many people killed and scores injured

  • The shrinking of safe humanitarian space and interference by armed groups are posing challenges to humanitarian efforts to reach those in need.

  • Humanitarian partners are responding to the 1,468 IDPs from the besieged neighbourhood of Al Waer in Homs city who arrived in Idleb governorate on 1 April. Additionally on 9 April, 1,424 Al Waer IDPs arrived in Jarablus town.

Situation Overview

On 21 March, several non-state armed groups (NSAGs), as well as Hayyat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) launched a large-scale offensive on Government of Syria (GoS)-held locations in the northern countryside of Hama. The armed clashes were concentrated in Suran and Hama sub-districts, causing a large wave of displacement in the area.

At the same time, airstrikes on towns and villages in northern Hama and southern Idleb were reported.
Several medical facilities in NSAG-held areas in northern rural Hama and southern Idleb were adversely impacted by hostilities. On 25 March, Physicians for Human Rights reported that multiple barrel bombs struck the Latmana Surgical Hospital in Latmana town. According to the hospital staff, at least one of the bombs contained a chemical agent, causing the death of one of the hospital’s doctors.
Local sources shared that around 25 of the hospital staff and patients suffered from suffocation as a result of the attack. Further on 25 March, several generators and fuel tanks belonging to an NGOsupported hospital were destroyed by nearby airstrikes in Kafr Nobol town. On 28 March, Physicians for Human Rights reported that a medical point in Kafr Nabutha town in northern Hama came under rocket fire, resulting in the injuring of one staff member, and causing moderate damage to the building. The hospital had to be relocated to a different area.

During the early morning hours of 4 April, an alleged chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykun in the southern countryside of Idleb took place. According to medical sources in the governorate, tens of people were killed and hundreds injured. More than 50 cases were referred to Turkey for treatment at Turkish medical facilities, of whom three died. Both locals of Khan Shaykun town and IDPs from the northern countryside of Hama were reportedly killed in the attack. A local NGO shared that the head of their orphan support program was also among the people killed. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are investigating the incident in Khan Shaykun town.

A few hours after the attack, the White Helmets center and Al-Rahma hospital in Khan Shaykun town sustained significant damage after three airstrikes reportedly struck the town, which further limited the response efforts. On 5 April, airstrikes on Khan Shaykun town continued drive hundreds of the town’s population towards nearby villages and open fields.

The overall situation in northern Hama and Idleb governorate remains tense with further airstrikes reported on several locations such as Salqin and Jisr Ash-Shugur towns, which reportedly claimed the lives of tens of civilians. Additionally, a medical point in Heish village was reportedly rendered out of service by airstrikes on 7 April, putting further strain on the already-strained medical services in the area.

On 1 April, 1,468 IDPs from the besieged Al Waer neighbourhood in Homs city arrived in Idleb following their evacuation as part of a ‘local agreement’ between NSAGs in Al Waer and the GoS. In addition, 1,424 IDPs were evacuated to Jarablus in rural Aleppo on 9 April as part of the same agreement. The neighbourhood has been besieged for a prolonged period resulting in a high level of humanitarian need. Under the agreement those ‘unwilling to settle their security status’ and their families can be evacuated to Jarablus or Idleb. Many people are doing so for a variety of reasons, including out of concern for their own security. The UN has repeatedly expressed deep concern at the continuing use of siege as a weapon of war and at local agreements which are preceded by the decimation of areas and result in the forced displacement of part of the civilian population. The UN does not endorse such local agreements, which do not appear to meet international legal standards or humanitarian principles, and has not been involved in the negotiations of such agreements. Any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing. Parties must treat those leaving with dignity, without fear of harm. Those displaced must be allowed to return voluntarily to their homes as soon as the situation allows it. While the UN does not endorse such agreements, the UN will scale up presence and efforts to ensure that civilians in these besieged areas are afforded all necessary protection and assistance, in line with international humanitarian law. This includes ensuring the humanitarian and protection needs of those displaced, and those who remain, are met.

In the meantime, NSAG interference in humanitarian operations in Idleb governorate has increased, with new registration demands and requests for information and interference with staffing, logistic, and financial issues that is not in line with humanitarian principles. The humanitarian community is engaging with local authorities and armed actors to ensure a common understanding and agreement on humanitarian principles and ways of working.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.