Wed 03 Jun 2020

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Unease and hesitation among IDPs to return home after Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal 

Al-Tal camp in the town of Dabiq, which was built after the recent waves of displacement from the rural areas of Idlib and Aleppo - February 2020 (Enab Baladi)

Al-Tal camp in the town of Dabiq, which was built after the recent waves of displacement from the rural areas of Idlib and Aleppo - February 2020 (Enab Baladi)

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The military escalation carried out by the Syrian regime forces in north-western Syria sparked a mass displacement of civilians from their homes in the city of Atarib to relatively safe areas near the Syrian-Turkish border twenty days ago. 

However, the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement signed on 5 March, encouraged Kasim Rammah to return to his hometown of the Atarib city in western rural Aleppo.

As twenty-one years old Rammah was wandering between the empty streets and lanes of Atarib, he told Enab Baladi in a grieving tone, “the streets are empty. Everyone has left, and there are no doctors, medical centers, or schools, the regime wiped out  all vital facilities and centers in the city, all the shops and bakeries are closed down.”

The content of the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement

The agreement signed between the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin on 5 March, stipulated an immediate ceasefire in Syria’s war-battered Idlib province on the demarcation line that was established within the “de-escalation” areas.

The agreement also provided for the creation of a “security corridor.” The security corridor will run 6km (four miles) north and 6 Km south from Idlib’s major M4 highway, which is connecting the Syrian regime-held cities of Lattakia and Aleppo.

The agreement called for further negotiations to mitigate the impact of the humanitarian crisis in the region and facilitate the return of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes. Besides, it stated that joint Russian-Turkish patrols would start on 15 March along the (M4) international highway between Trinbeh area, west of Saraqib city, and Ain al-Hawr village in western rural Idlib.

The new ceasefire agreement did not mention anything about the withdrawal of the Syrian regime forces from the borders outlined in the previous “Sochi” agreement, thus preserving the current military status quo in the area.

Negative feelings dominated Rammah when he first saw the tragic situation of the al-Atarib city. Then, he felt a little bit optimistic when he learned of the return of some of his neighbors. However, Rammah knew later that their return is temporary, aimed solely at checking on the condition of their houses and taking the necessary properties they need during their journey of displacement.

Safer areas

Even though Rammah is sure that the Syrian regime will continue its military operations and advancements after announcing the ceasefire agreement in the western Aleppo countryside, he insists on staying in the Atarib city driven by his emotions rather than logic.

Thirty-five-year-old Jihad Abu Abdo disagrees with Rammah and refuses to return to Kafr Oweid village in Jabal al-Zawiya, south of Idlib.

Abu Abdo told Enab Baladi that the houses of the villages are empty, and some homes are either destroyed or partially damaged due to the continuous shelling by the Syrian regime forces on the area. Furthermore, the furniture of many houses was looted.

Abu Abdo added that the regime forces even pulled the electrical wires from inside the houses of the village, and then burned them to extract the copper within the cables.

The Syrian regime managed to inflict damage to the village within only 62 hours of control over the area. The village returned under the control of the opposition factions on 29 last February.

After Kafr Oweid village was announced as an opposition-controlled area, Abu Abdo visited the area before leaving again to his new residence in Idlib city.

He believes his return to Kafr Oweid village is not possible, especially that the regime forces are only seven kilometers far from the village.

Moreover, Abu Abdo believes that the Syrian regime will violate the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, for Russian warplanes and reconnaissance aircraft were flying over Jabal al-Zawiya while he was checking his home.

Renewed bombing

The intermittent military moves of the Syrian regime following the ceasefire agreement have reinforced the fears of the IDPs, mainly in the areas south of the international highway Lattakia – Aleppo (M4).

It is worth mentioning that the fate of the areas located south of the M4 is not clearly defined in terms of the agreement, or the announced maps.

On 7 March, the Syrian National Army (SNA) announced that it thwarted the first advancement attempt of the Syrian regime forces and its Russian ally. The regime forces and its militias were trying to advance on the axis of al-Ghab Plain, west of Hama, however, the factions repelled the attack.

After less than an hour from the signing of the Russian–Turkish ceasefire agreement, the regime forces bombed the towns of Kafr Nasfara, Sfohen, and al-Fateerah in Jabal al-Zawiya, south of Idlib.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Civil Defence (globally known as White Helmets) documented that the Syrian regime forces targeted Afrin city in the north-western countryside of Aleppo with artillery shells, causing the injury of two young men.

 

 

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