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Syrian regime uses evacuation as means of seizing Idlib

In exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, head of White Helmets comments on spiral of violence, breach of truce deals

Adham Kako and Muhammed Yusuf   | 21.01.2020
Syrian regime uses evacuation as means of seizing Idlib Raed al-Saleh, director of the White Helmets


The head of Syria’s White Helmets (Civil Defense) Tuesday said the Syrian regime sought to capture opposition-controlled northwestern Idlib city of Syria through forced evacuations.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Raed al-Saleh commented on the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allies’ aggression on the city and violation of cease-fire agreements.

"The cease-fire in Idlib seems to be collapsed, it was relatively better. Those who migrated would return home, but the regime and Russia did not abide by the cease-fire same as before," Saleh said.

"The regime attempts to seize Idlib through evacuation," he said, and added that the international community remained silent to the suffering of those being bombed to death in Idlib city.

The regime and allies' aggression in southern Idlib have recently triggered forced migration of some 350,000 civilians, he stressed, adding: "Over a million civilians have fled their houses in Idlib since April 2019."

Saleh went on to say that a humanitarian disaster was imminent in Idlib city if the regime and allies maintained attacks.

He also said the locals were so desperate that they did not even dream about returning.

The aid organizations have had difficulty in meeting the needs of locals and hundreds of thousands of civilians were in dire need of humanitarian assistance, Saleh added.

Responding to a question about the strikes on employees working voluntarily, he said: "There is no mechanism protecting the voluntary employees. There is a universal approach of not targeting ambulances, but we build hospitals around mountains and camouflage the ambulances."

Media outlets also targeted the White Helmets as well as armed strikes, he said, and added: "We are the first witnesses of the crimes committed by Russia and the regime. Therefore, they also target or credibility."

Violations of Sochi, Astana agreements

Located in northwestern Syria next to Turkey’s borderline, Idlib has been a fortress for opposition forces and anti-regime armed groups since the eruption of the bloody civil war in 2011.

The city population has climbed to a whopping 4 million due to domestic migration in the city center amid intense attacks.

Turkey, Russia, and Iran held meetings in Astana city of Kazakhstan in 2017 and announced that Idlib and neighboring cities, Eastern Ghouta region of capital Damascus and southern regions, namely Daraa and Quneitra cities, would be de-escalation zones.

But the Assad regime and Iranian-backed terror groups launched attacks in violation of the agreements and, thanks to Russian air support, gained control of all these territories with the exception of Idlib city.

The aggression continued after Sept. 17, 2018 when Turkey and Russia held Sochi meetings in a bid to halt attacks.

Since the beginning of 2019 alone, regime and allies aggression have caused at least 1.3 million civilians to migrate towards the Turkish borderline while some 1,600 civilians were killed in bombardments.

* Writing by Ali Murat Alhas from Ankara.

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