Washington, DC - The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is gravely concerned about an impending humanitarian disaster as the situation in Idlib, northwestern Syria, rapidly escalates. SAMS hospitals have seen victims from at least five chemical attacks in the last two weeks, and at least two hospitals in Idlib have been targeted and hit by airstrikes in the last week. SAMS warns that the humanitarian situation will continue to worsen and strikes against civilians, including with the use of chemical agents, will likely intensify without immediate international engagement.
Between March 16 and 26, SAMS-affiliated hospitals saw victims from at least five instances of chemical attacks. In all five instances, barrel bombs were dropped on civilian populated areas and victims experienced symptoms of chlorine exposure. A SAMS-sponsored field hospital in Sarmin, Idlib was targeted and damaged by a missile strike on March 26. On Monday, March 30, another airstrike destroyed a Syrian Red Crescent hospital in Idlib city.
Civilians continue to be bombed daily. Since the government forces pulled out of Idlib this past weekend, at least 50 people have been killed from aerial bombardment, and dozens have been injured. SAMS field staff report that shelling and barrel bombings have increased, with more than 40 attacks in one day. Field reports indicate that victims from two barrel bomb attacks on Monday, March 30 at 2am also suffered from symptoms of chlorine exposure. President of SAMS Dr. Zaher Sahloul said, "When I spoke with the doctors from the emergency room in Sarmin's hospital, I asked them what they needed most from the international community. They said, 'Stop the bombing.'"
Over 100,000 civilians have been displaced in Idlib city as a result of shelling and fighting, as well as displaced from the Idlib suburbs of Sarmin, Binnish, and Maaret Mesrin because of increased chlorine attacks and fear of ongoing government retaliation. This number is expected to grow rapidly. Civilians are prevented from traveling to Homs, Hama, and Tartous by the government, and the border of Turkey is closed to Syrians. Roads are barely accessible and civilians have very little movement options. The situation is becoming increasingly dire, with frequent electricity shortages, lack of supplies, and closing of many hospitals and schools.
SAMS warns of an impending humanitarian disaster in Idlib, and calls upon the U.S. government and international community to act with urgency to protect civilians and assist those newly displaced. Field hospitals in Idlib are in desperate need of protective gear, oxygen, and antidotes to prepare for future chemical agent responses, and SAMS calls for an immediate scale up in medical aid delivery to the Idlib area. The UN and greater international community must immediately assist the waves of internally displaced persons in Idlib, particularly through a dramatic scale up of medical assistance, non-food items, and protection. As the crisis worsens, Turkey should immediately consider re-opening its border to Syrian refugees who are in desperate need of safety and security. SAMS is concerned that without an urgent international response and engagement, the pattern of chemical agent use will continue and escalate. The UN must hold perpetrators accountable for these direct violations of international law and UN Security Council Resolutions 2118 and 2209, and act quickly to protect civilians from continued attacks.