Syria ceasefire just gives regime a breather, say tired Idlib residents

Many have lived through previous government offensives and brief ceasefires elsewhere

Residents of northern Syria say they have no faith in the temporary reprieve brought by a Russian-led ceasefire in Idlib.

They say shelling has not stopped and the memories endure of other deals in other areas subjected to government offensives.

Many of the nearly 3 million civilians sheltering in Syria’s last rebel-held area were displaced from elsewhere in the country after government offensives.

Those who lived through such fighting say that similar ceasefire deals made little difference as shelling continued and government forces used the brief pause to regroup and renew the offensive days later.

“I do not know what to say,” said Sara Mawlawe, 29, a teacher in the Idlib town of Saraqib south-east of Idlib city.

Ms Mawlawe was displaced from Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, after the regime onslaught there in March 2018.

"The Russian-Syrian regimes are playing with the international community and us like we're dull – attacking when they want to, ceasing fire to rest and reload their weapons whenever they want," she told The National.

Ms Mawlawe said Russian-backed forces would not stop until they recaptured the areas they wanted, regardless of the international community.

“This truce is a setup scheme to orchestrate more attacks against civilians,” she said. “Since I came from Eastern Ghouta last year, the ceasefire and battles are almost identical.

“Not only the attacks and ceasefires are the same since Eastern Ghouta or Aleppo, the world’s leaders and media coverage have also been the same.

“Condemnation and draft resolutions against the Syrian regime always vetoed by Russia. Can anyone give me one reason to be optimistic or think this one will end our agony?”

She said that while the area of Idlib in which where she was sheltering was relatively peaceful on Sunday, she could hear warplanes overhead and explosions in the distance.

“We do not know if the truce is still on track or it has been cancelled," Ms Mawlawe said.

On Saturday, Syria and Russia declared the second ceasefire since August 1.

But it was swiftly broken by the Syrian military who announced that they were starting attacks against “terrorists” in north Syria.

Ms Mawlawe works with a relief organisation providing aid to internally displaced people in the region.

She is a volunteer cook and distributes essential items with the local council of Saraqib.

“Even though the truce will not last, the international organisation ought to stand up for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who lost everything," Ms Mawlawe said.

“Some families have not eaten a meal for more than three days, or are without shelter.

"The humanitarian crisis is at critical levels and needs the intervention of international organisations”.

Sami Souqe, 33, is a carpenter but lost his home in the bombing of Aleppo three years ago.

Mr Souqe has been living with his family of three children in Maarat Al Numan, south of Idlib city.

His house has been destroyed and his son Khaled, 9, is still in intensive care after wounds to his back.

Mr Souqe's other two children and his wife were displaced again now sleep under the open sky, homeless and without assistance, while he waits near the Turkish border hospital in Bab Al Hawa with Khaled.

“We are defenceless and harmless," he said. "Why are the same attacks and truces happening over and over, and there’s no response or movement whatsoever by the West to end the ongoing atrocities?”

Mr Souqe didn’t believe the ceasefire was an attempt to ease the humanitarian situation or stop the clashes.

“The declared halt only serves the regime, to reorganise their fighters and move more militants and ammunitions towards Idlib’s frontline to destroy and recapture more towns," he said.

"It has been happening for years.

“In 2016 we had the same scenario when dozens of ceasefires were announced and broken again and again by the regime, fooling rebel forces and the international communities with the fake willingness to hold peace negotiations.”

Mr Souqe took part in a protest on Friday at the Syrian border with Turkey, calling for Ankara to open the closed crossing to allow civilians to flee the bloodshed of the Idlib campaign.

"We are exhausted and need this war to come to an end," he said.

"We pray for it every day to come true."