In northwest Syria, a recent surge in violence perpetrated by Russian and Syrian government forces has led to a devastating toll, claiming the lives of 66 civilians and displacing 120,000 people since the onset of October. The attacks, concentrated in the Idlib and Aleppo countryside, have resulted in 66 fatalities, including 23 children and 13 women, with over 270 individuals sustaining injuries, including 79 children and 47 women, as reported by the Syrian Civil Defence, commonly known as the White Helmets. Though there has been a slight reduction in the frequency of aerial and artillery bombardment since early November, a concerning shift in tactics has been observed. Syrian regime forces are now targeting civilian vehicles using guided missiles, with the White Helmets documenting 17 such attacks from the beginning of the year until November 8. These attacks have led to four civilian deaths, including a White Helmets volunteer, and 15 injuries, including two children.
Idlib, the last bastion controlled by opposition forces in Syria, operates under a ceasefire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia on March 5, 2020. However, violations persist as Syrian government forces continue their assaults. Mustafa al-Bakour, a prominent figure in Syrian opposition factions, suggests that the recent escalation is a strategic move to exert pressure on Turkey and opposition groups. Key among the issues is the demand for the opening of the international road between Syria and Turkey, notably the vital M4 and M5 arteries crucial for international trade. This escalation strategically coincides with global attention focused on the conflict in Gaza, enabling Russia and the Syrian regime to intensify their actions in northwest Syria, taking advantage of the diverted global gaze. The United Nations reports that over 120,000 civilians have been forced to flee to shelters and camps near the Syrian-Turkish border due to the recent escalation.
Despite the dire circumstances, al-Bakour believes that the current conditions are not conducive to an immediate military response from either side. However, he does not rule out the continuation of shelling operations by the al-Assad regime and Russian forces in northern liberated Syria. Since Russia’s military intervention in 2015, its objectives extend beyond supporting the al-Assad regime to securing strategic assets, including the Hmeimim Air Base and a naval base in Tartus. Political analyst Turki Mustafa underscores Russia’s claim of combating “terrorism” while targeting northwest Syria as a tactic to assert itself as a key regional player, even at the cost of civilian lives. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented approximately 7,000 civilian deaths, including 2,046 children and 978 women, attributed to Russian forces since their intervention eight years ago.