‘No one is hearing us crying’: Fear as Assad advances towards Idlib

A baby cries out for her mother – but she is unable to be by her side.
The 34-year-old and her newborn girl are being treated in one of the last functioning hospitals in the Syrian city of Idlib.

Seventy hospitals have been bombed out of action, and the location of this hospital is being kept secret for fear it will be targeted next.

Image: The aftermath of a bombing raid seen by Sky News
Doctors have decided it is safer if the mother and baby stay in separate rooms.
The child’s mum, Warda, is one of thousands of victims of the trauma suffered by countless families in Syria.

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She has had to move 10 times since the start of the country’s war in 2011.

The hospital where she gave birth 20 days ago is under constant threat of destruction.

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We visited it during more than 24 hours in Idlib province after getting rare access.
While we were there, Sky News witnessed thousands of people desperately attempting to find safety away from the bombing.
We also saw what was making them flee: the indiscriminate bombing of civilians.
A river of humanity was on the move, and what we saw seemed to be evidence of war crimes.

Image: A camp for displaced people in Idlib
Warda has struggled to find a place in Syria where she and her 10 children are safe.
She has given birth six times since leaving her home in southern Aleppo province soon after fighting got under way, and has moved every year since.
When Sky News spoke to her, her new daughter Tesleem was in intensive care and weighed just over a kilo.
Tesleem and countless others are born into the world early because their mothers are so traumatised by the random and targeted shelling around them.
Warda told us: “Our house was destroyed by shelling. We had to move. It was very difficult. Every year we moved and I gave birth.
“We had to beg to stay in people’s basements. We’ve gone from camp to camp.
“It was so hard staying warm in the tent. We had to collect plastic sacks and old clothes to burn, just to allow my children to keep warm.
“We are always so anxious. I’m worried about my children. There is no school for them. They need this. Every child should have the right to learn, to play, so they can have a future.”

Image: A young child outside a tent in one of the Idlib camps
The family showed us the ramshackle tent where they live in Maaret Misrin, a small village near Idlib city.
Warda, her husband Mohammed and their nine other children, most of whom are under nine, cram into the tent with two other families.
One of the other families had a three-year-old grandson called Abdullah.
The little boy told us how scared he was when bombs were dropped nearby and how he crawled under a blanket to hide whenever he heard shelling or airstrikes.
The adults in the tent smiled mournfully. This is the life their children are living now – and Abdullah has known nothing but bombs, shelling and terror in all his three years.
The adults and children in Warda and Abdullah’s families are just a handful of the 900,000 who are currently displaced from their homes in northwest Syria because of the war. That’s almost the entire population of Birmingham.
The number of children who are on the run and fleeing from an advancing army is comparable to the population of Manchester.

Life on the move for Syrian children
The scale of the humanitarian crisis is quite enormous.
When the war came to their homes, each of these families had to grab their relatives, gather their belongings and travel miles to seek a safe place – and do it all over again when the war caught up with them.
The Sky News team witnessed this tide of people on the move.
As dusk fell on Monday, outside the village of Darat Izza, two lanes of traffic headed in just one direction as far as the eye could see.
The people we saw were heading towards Afrin, in the Turkish-controlled part of northern Syria.
Hours earlier, there had been shelling and bombing in Darat Izza, where many had been living in any space they could – on spare patches of land, on roadsides, on disused railways.

Image: Trucks piled high as people try to escape Idlib
Now, the Syrian regime is targeting those camps filled with displaced people.
We travelled to within 15 minutes of the border with Turkey to al Karamah camp, where two shells had landed in a field filled with tents.
“There is nowhere safe in Syria anymore,” one man told us.
One of the trucks travelling to Afrin carried 15 people. Mattresses, plastic bottles and little metal cylinders used for cooking were piled inside as women clambered on top – their babies tucked under their arms – and more crammed into the cab.
Many of those on the move had animals with them.
The emotions of all were written on their faces. For many anger – for others an indescribable sadness.
Some showed rare signs of optimism, flashing V signs as they tried to celebrate their planned move to Afrin, hopeful they would find safety there.
Others were so crestfallen they could barely talk.
One woman we spoke to was choked up with tears, worried about what it would mean for her children.

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There was fear on a mass scale. Those heading to Afrin are terrified about what’s coming from behind, and fearful of what might be ahead for them.
Many of them talked about how, if it doesn’t work out, they will try heading to Turkey once again, with a hope of travelling onwards to Europe.
But the border is shut, with nearly four million people already camping inside Turkey.
Almost all said there was nowhere left for them to run to. There’s a real sense of panic with the realisation that Bashar al Assad, and the troops backed by Russia and Iran, are probably going to triumph and reclaim control of the whole of the country.
Syrians from Aleppo, Homs, Daraa and so many other cities have already fled their leader – and now, Bashar al Assad is at the gates of Idlib.
He is now bombing and shelling further forward at a rate of about six miles (10km) a day.
The man they denounce as a mad, evil murderer is biting at their heels.
At the moment, those displaced feel they are keeping one step ahead of Assad.
But they believe that he will massacre them – enacting revenge on them and their families – if he moves into their villages.

Image: Syrian President Bashar al Assad is now at the gates of Idlib
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are right up against the Turkish border – banging on the door because they want to escape – but until now, the doors have remained shut.
Many of those we talked to felt bitterly let down by the international community.
At the hospital where baby Tesleem was being looked after, a doctor told Sky News that the UN Security Council should be stripped of its title because it had failed to provide any security for the people of Syria.
Referring to Western leaders such as Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel, he said: “Where is the humanity? How can people sleep at night?
“It’s not like they don’t know this is going on. They’ve seen it for years. They’ve seen all the bombing and the shelling. They’ve seen all the hospitals being targeted, all the people running.
“How can they sleep at night knowing that children are dying of cold, that they’re being bombed and shelled? And they are doing nothing. They’re not even giving us a blanket.”
Sky News was a witness to some of the bombing by Syria’s allies.
Barely an hour after an attack occurred, we visited a house that had been targeted.
An old woman who lived there had to be rescued by a member of the White Helmets, the organisation nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its work pulling victims out of rubble.
Inside her house, the remains of her unwashed dishes remained among the debris. Her windows were blown in, her door was demolished, and the walls of her house were damaged.
It was a miracle she had survived.
As we were inside, jets came over. We watched as they peppered the area with bombs.
They were spraying the countryside around us.
Among the villages we saw hit were Termanin, Ad Dana, Kabtan al Jabal and Abzimo.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, later said Kabtan al Jabal had been captured on Monday by regime forces.
It also said airstrikes hit Darat Izza, Abzimo, the road between Darat and Termanin and numerous other locations – and shelling hit Ad Dana as the regime surged forward.
The smell of the explosives that had ripped apart the house in Darat Izza was still fresh in the air as we emerged.
We could hear the sound of drones overhead.

Image: The wreckage of al Kinana Hospital
Eager not to linger, we moved on to a wrecked hospital that had also recently been struck by bombing.
Although the walls of the al Kinana Hospital had been smashed, things inside were still working.
The fan was on in one of the rooms, water was dripping from a fractured pipe. Even some of the lights were on.
Everywhere, there were tell-tale signs that the people inside had been forced to flee.
In one room, there was a pair of small children’s shoes and a ruffled-up blanket that had obviously just been ditched.
Downstairs, in the operating room in the basement, there was an array of surgical instruments laid out, ready to use, and surgical masks that had clearly recently been taken out of their packs.

Image: Fresh blood could be seen on the floor of an operating room
Underneath the bed, fresh blood was on the floor, suggesting someone was in the process of being bandaged up when the room was abandoned.
The accident and emergency registry showed they were treating patients on the day of the bombing. Children as young as two were among the patients.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations later said the hospital was one of two that was attacked in Darat Izza that day, along with another maternity hospital.
No other buildings nearby had been affected by the strikes, indicating the hospital had been targeted.
Ismail al Abdullah, the White Helmet member who had helped rescue the elderly woman, told us he had previously lived in Aleppo, where he was hounded out despite trying to save hundreds of lives.
He had hoped moving to Idlib would make him safer, but now his life is in danger again.
Several times a day, he pulls people out of buildings that have come under attack, despite being a target himself.

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In order to be ready for attacks, the White Helmets monitor drones and Russian and regime aircraft in the sky.
No one else has any air power – airstrikes either come from Russian planes, taking off from Moscow’s base in the west Syrian city of Latakia, or Syrian regime jets leaving from Qwaires, 18 miles (30km) east of Aleppo.
The White Helmet volunteers watch as the bombs fall and then try to rush there and drag out anybody thought to be in the ruins.
Mr al Abdullah said: “No one is listening to us. No one is hearing us crying. Why doesn’t Bashar al Assad just kill us all. Why is he putting us through this torture.”
Like most people in Idlib, he is very scared about what is to come. Many are now terrified Assad is on the brink of all-out victory.
We travelled into Idlib city, to see conditions in the province’s capital for ourselves.

Image: People living under a former football stadium in Idlib
There, underneath what used to be a national football stadium, a makeshift living area had sprung up for thousands of people who had nowhere else to go.
Where crowds used to gather to watch football matches, the area was now filled with the plastic tents of people living rough.
Bedraggled families sat on the steps of the stadium, wondering where they were going to go next.
Any water they need comes from tanks shipped in from outside – there is no running water, no electricity, no heating and no food.
They rely on charity donations and try to spend what little money they have on firewood in a desperate bid to keep warm in the freezing temperatures.

Image: Hundreds of people, mostly women and children, were sleeping in a room that is half the size of a netball pitch
In a downstairs room, we found about 400 people, the bulk of whom were widows with their children, sleeping in a small room that is half the size of a netball court.
We watched as a Turkish group brought in donations from outside. The scene descended into wild excitement as everyone frantically shoved and pulled as they tried to get the socks and little boots that were being delivered.
Many of those we saw were clearly sick. The sound of coughing filled the air.
Three female volunteers from the White Helmets arrived while we were there to treat small wounds with iodine, but the overriding sense we took away was that it was a scene of incredible desperation.

Image: Socks were delivered by aid workers to the people in the stadium
The people there – among the most vulnerable in the region – had nowhere else to go.
We spent about 34 hours inside Idlib.
During that time, it was obvious there were war crimes, obvious crimes against humanity and obvious deprivation.
There are a multitude of militia operating inside Idlib, many of them now engaged in the fight of their lives against the regime troops. But there are millions of civilians too, many of them vehemently against the militias and who denounce them as well as the regime. They accuse them of war crimes and of countless brutalities.
But what is also obvious too is that no one is doing anything about it. Despite protestations from the UN, the British government, the American government and the Turkish government, no one seems able to help those in need. Or they just aren’t.

Image: Aid workers delivered children’s shoes to those in the stadium
Every hour that goes by, every minute that goes by, countless people in Syria are suffering and living in the most appalling conditions.
The catch-all phrase of “displaced people” doesn’t cover the sheer amount of terror and deprivation they are all going though.
A camera lens just isn’t big enough to show the scale.

Source : Sky News