Thousands of families flee conflict in Hama and Idlib

Across the rebel-held countrysides of northern Hama and southern Idlib, a new wave of displacement is taking place. The renewed displacement comes following the launch of an offensive by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) into the region and resumption of airstrikes across the two provinces following a months-long break.

The renewed bout of fighting has its roots in two particular incidents: The first is an offensive in October 2017 by Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and allied rebel factions that took over a number of villages along the Hama-Idlib border. The second is the defeat of ISIS in the Uqayribat region of eastern Hama and the escape of many militants into the northeast Hama countryside where they engaged in a three-way battle with the HTS and SAA. With the HTS distracted by the stalemated, three-way battle and tensions across the province picking up steadily, the government forces took the opportunity to launch an offensive into Idlib in December 2017, more than two years after they lost the province.

Although the SAA offensive has made rapid gains across the region as it fights its way towards the rebel-held Abu al-Duhur Airbase, these gains have come with a massive human cost. Many towns and villages in northern Hama and southern Idlib have been subjected to intense airstrikes, with the number of civilian casualties rising steadily. The renewed airstrikes have virtually stopped all reconstructionefforts that had taken place across the region.

Many of those who have fled have either taken shelter near the Turkish border or in the countryside close to their villages. Here, they are forced to endure lack of supplies, shelter, food and fresh water. Due to the instability gripping the region, aid organisations are unable to deliver much support, leaving these Syrians to fend for themselves.

Many Opposition politicians, meanwhile, decry the re-escalation of the fighting in what is nominally supposed to be part of the deescalation zones that were agreed in the Syria Peace Talks in Astana. Coming so soon after the most recent round of talks has left many of them sceptical of the process.