NGO Forum Statement on Escalation in Idlib, Northwest SyriaPublished: Oct 16, 2023 Reading time: 3 minutes
Today marks a week since the onset of the ongoing escalation of attacks in Northwest Syria. The NGO Forum reiterates its condemnation of belligerent attacks on civilians and urges all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities, including activities that undermine people’s access to safety, shelter, and basic services, including food, water, health, and education. Direct or indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Nearly 50 civilians have been killed so far, including 9 children and 213 injured, 69 of whom are children and 41 women. Vital infrastructure and facilities have been impacted, limiting access to basic services and causing further deterioration in humanitarian conditions in a region that has already been suffering from the impacts of 12 years of war, devastating earthquakes, disease outbreaks, economic shocks, and large-scale displacement. With winter approaching and this new wave of displacement, this will compound existing humanitarian needs, in a context where humanitarian funding is diminishing, and the humanitarian response plan (HRP) is already 72% underfunded.
The increase in hostilities has forced many humanitarian organizations to suspend operations, limiting the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the population of 4.4 million, 90% of whom are dependent on assistance for survival, and limited humanitarian organizations’ ability to respond to needs caused by the latest escalation. Furthermore, attacks on key civilian infrastructure, such as the main power station in Idleb has forced critical medical facilities in the city to rely solely on generators, thus depleting their fuel stocks.
More than 61 communities in NWS have so far been impacted. At least 15 medical facilities, 11 schools, 7 camps, several mosques, and marketplaces have been targeted, in addition to attacks on humanitarian workers and facilities. Humanitarian actors are reporting the use of incendiary weapons, in addition to the use of cluster munitions on civilians and civilian infrastructure, in open contravention of the international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). The use of such weapons in populated areas poses a serious threat to the lives of Syrians, especially children, and severely limits access of humanitarian actors to affected communities who are in acute need of basic services. Furthermore, remnants of such ordnance will continue endangering lives, triggering further displacement, and limiting access to services and livelihoods long after the cessation of hostilities.
In the direct aftermath of the escalations, more than 400,000 students have not been able to attend school after the authorities suspended educational activities until further notice as a safety measure, and more than 2 million civilians no longer have access to medical treatment due to suspension of operations in medical facilities. Furthermore, the attacks have triggered the displacement of more than 25,000 people, most of whom have already experienced multiple displacements. Displaced families are in desperate need of food, clean water, safe shelter, and healthcare.
We call on donors to support humanitarian organizations to respond to needs caused by the latest escalation.
We call on the international community and the United Nations to take effective and collective actions to ensure that parties to the conflict end the attacks on civilians immediately and adhere to their obligations under IHL and IHRL to protect civilians, civilian infrastructure and ensure the safe and unhindered access of humanitarian workers in affected areas, and that mechanisms for attribution, accountability, and legal actions are in place.