Statement by Panos Moumtzis, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, on Escalation of Violence in Idleb Governorate [EN/AR]
Amman, 25 April 2019
I am alarmed by the recent escalation of violence and hostilities in and around the demilitarized zone in north-western Syria, including a new wave of shelling and airstrikes across Idleb, striking schools, markets and displacement camps in recent days and creating panic and havoc amongst the civilian population.
Since 18 April, at least 36 civilians have been killed and dozens more have been injured in the violence, including a reported 17 civilians killed as a result of an “unidentified” explosion which occurred in a market area of Jisr Ash Shughur city, which resulted in the collapse of several residential buildings on Wednesday. Rescue workers worked into the night to remove people from the rubble of the buildings, with one woman successfully being rescued after 10 hours.
Two days earlier, three boys were killed in their tent in the town of Khan Sheikhoun where they had sought shelter after their school was hit by shells. A second school in the same location was heavily damaged, while a third school in Saraqib had also to suspend classes for the day when shells fell nearby. Fear permeates the air and many residents are refraining from going outside or sending their children to school.
Such attacks and violence are abhorrent and continue to result in unconscionable suffering for the civilian population in the area. Large numbers of people have been forced from their homes in the most recent violence, compounding an already precarious humanitarian situation on the ground.
Since February, over 200 civilians have reportedly been killed in Idleb, and scores more have been injured, following increased military clashes and attacks in the area, resulting in over 120,000 people fleeing to areas closer to the Turkey border and hundreds of civilian casualties.
I strongly condemn these horrific and senseless attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure and the violence, and call on all parties to the conflict to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect civilians from harm, including the prohibition on launching of indiscriminate attacks and principles of proportionality and precautions.
I also reiterate any large-scale military offensive in the densely populated area would have a devastating cost on the civilian population and would likely result in further displacement in an area where a large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are already present. Moreover, a further escalation of violence in Idleb and surrounding areas will likely severely impact humanitarian partners’ ability to deliver life-saving assistance in the area.
Across northwestern Syria, an estimated 2.7 million women, children and men remain in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than one million children, supported by cross-border operations from Turkey. This includes 1.7 million IDPs, many of whom have been displaced multiple times and have been living in camps for years. It’s vital we safeguard the lives of these innocent people now.