Islamic Relief-supported hospital hit in Idlib as latest escalation in Syria displaces thousands

Islamic Relief strongly condemns this week’s spate of attacks in Idlib, Syria that have destroyed a hospital it supports and displaced tens of thousands of people in recent days.

Attacks hit the towns of Ma’art Al Numan and Ariha in North West Idlib late on Wednesday night, completely destroying al-Shami hospital in the town of Ariha which had been supported by Islamic Relief and was providing care to more than 3,000 people every month.

At least ten people were killed including four children and six women while more than 35 injured, including four nurses, according to local news reports. One of those killed in this attack was a female humanitarian worker for a local NGO.

Islamic Relief’s Syria Country Director, Ahmed Mahmoud, said: “We are very concerned about the recent escalation of violence in North-West Syria, and we strongly condemn the attack of hospitals and health facilities. Ours teams are gravely worried that the increase in violence in recent days could signal the start of another major offensive to re-take the area, home to some 3 million people – half of whom are children.”

Islamic Relief is one of the few international non-governmental organisations still operating directly on the ground in Idlib, where more than 517,000 people have fled their homes since 1 December due to ongoing violence, according to the UN.

Mahmoud said: ‘’Attacks like these are forcing people to leave their homes in droves but with nowhere left to turn in Idlib, most of them are now huddled in makeshift settlements and living in dire conditions.’’

Conditions inside these makeshift camps are appalling, with several families forced to share the same tent due to lack of space and more people arriving every day. The tents are cold and often leak and there are mass shortages of food, water, fuel and no electricity which is desperately needed during the harsh Syrian winter.

There are now 1,150 camps for people who have been displaced across Idlib but due to overcrowding, there is no space for many of the newly displaced.

Twenty-five year old Um Rami fled Ma’rat al-Numan after Wednesday’s attacks killed her husband. Along with many others from her home town, she has been forced to stay on the outskirts of one of the camps, in the mountains along the Syrian-Turkish border.

She said: ‘’I am petrified of the dark, my heart trembles whenever I hear any sound at night or I hear anyone passing by my tent’’.

‘’I have very frightening thoughts. I need a tent, mattresses and blankets for my child and me so that I can live inside the camp, I am terrified here.’’

The crisis in Syria has been going on for nearly nine years now, and the majority of Idlib’s 3 million inhabitants have already been displaced from their homes elsewhere in the country. Those displaced in the latest violence routinely told Islamic Relief staff that they fear there is nowhere safe for them and their children.

Ahmed Mahmoud said: “The humanitarian situation on the ground is terrible, before the attacks, more than two-thirds of families in Idlib were food insecure, and now the needs have increased. “Many aid organisations have been forced to stop operating in the region due to volatile security, which has created significant humanitarian need.’

‘‘Our teams that remain on the ground are doing their best to provide whatever help they can. They have distributed mattresses, blankets, tents, food and clothes for children as well as heating equipment, but so much still needs to be done.’’

‘‘We urge all parties to uphold the ceasefire agreement and fulfil their obligations under international human rights law and refrain from targeting civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as to exercise restraint in order to protect water supplies, health facilities, schools and camps for displaced people.”