On July 22 Russian jets bombed the market in Maarat al-Numan, a town near Idlib in northwestern Syria, killing 40 civilians. According to an eyewitness named Um Abdullah, the bombing was so devastating that rescue workers struggled to find corpses left intact. “They filled entire bags with body parts,” she said.
Idlib and the surrounding area is now the last remaining territory in Syria still controlled by opposition forces. Over three million people live there, including over 1.5 million children. They are nearly all civilians, with about half displaced from other parts of Syria. After Russia intervened directly in the civil war in late 2015 on the side of the Assad regime, pro-regime forces, including Iran-backed militias, recaptured all the other rebel-held areas. Those who refused to surrender to the regime were deported to Idlib, where they now await their fate. Since the end of April Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces and their Russian allies have been pounding the area with air strikes, killing nearly 800 people so far. The UN and human rights NGOs warn of an impending “humanitarian nightmare,” as regime forces decimate cities, pushing civilians to flee toward the sealed Turkish border.
Syrian and Russian militaries renewed their assault on Idlib in late April, recycling tactics they used in places like Aleppo: in addition to heavy indiscriminate attacks on population centers, they destroy essential infrastructure and services such as hospitals, ambulances, schools and markets with targeted strikes from the air. They also kill civil defense teams while they are trying to rescue civilians trapped under rubble. Between heavy airstrikes, shelling, and a ground assault, more than 452,000 people have been displaced over the last three months.
But neither the dire warnings from humanitarian workers and UN agencies, nor the devastating death and destruction, have received significant media attention. The world has turned its attention away from the war for many reasons, but the main factor seems to be that there is essentially nothing new about Syrian civilians dying in indiscriminate airstrikes. Hundreds of thousands have died in such attacks over the last eight years. Activists on the ground disseminate graphic and disturbing images of the carnage and destruction in the hope of shocking the outside world into taking action; but those disturbing images achieve the opposite of their intended purpose, with the news-consuming public feeling helpless and thus increasingly reluctant to look and to know. [Continue reading…]