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October 10, 2018

Despite The Forestalled Attack, Idlib Hospitals Are At Breaking Point

A recent agreement between Russia and Turkey to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib appears to have forestalled an imminent assault by government forces on the city.

Despite the agreement, along with the efforts of the wider international community to bring about peace, medical and aid workers in the region believe the deal is only delaying the inevitable; that it will collapse and Idlib will suffer what the UN last month forecast as the “worst humanitarian catastrophe” of this century.

Six years ago, Dr Adnan Ali moved his wife and children across the border from Idlib province to the relative safety of Turkey. He recently returned to the city – the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria – in an effort to bring the rest of his family to the neighbouring country.

He describes the situation as “critical”. Speaking to the BBC, he explained why a broken agreement would result in dire consequences for the local health service:

“If the [government] and Russia keep this agreement then it will be good for the people and may save lives. If they break it then it will be a catastrophe,” Ali said. “The medical supplies were enough for the local community, but after the displacement from Eastern Ghouta and other places there is not enough.”

Russia, who supports regime forces, and Turkey, who back some rebels, agreed to create a zone from which rebel groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, must withdraw by the middle of this month.

However, the deal cannot negate what has already occurred. Hospitals, rescue workers and ambulances in Idlib have recently been bombed, with reports of attacks against White Helmets workers surfacing in September. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman told the BBC that a quarter of health facilities in Idlib were now out of service.

She went on to explain that, even if the deal holds and an assault never takes place, the depleted health service will need to be vastly improved in order to help the estimated 1.4 million displaced Syrians who have arrived in the region from other parts of the country.

Russia, who supports regime forces, and Turkey, who back some rebels, agreed to create a zone from which rebel groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, must withdraw by the middle of this month.

However, the deal cannot negate what has already occurred. Hospitals, rescue workers and ambulances in Idlib have recently been bombed, with reports of attacks against White Helmets workers surfacing in September. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman told the BBC that a quarter of health facilities in Idlib were now out of service.

She went on to explain that, even if the deal holds and an assault never takes place, the depleted health service will need to be vastly improved in order to help the estimated 1.4 million displaced Syrians who have arrived in the region from other parts of the country.

“Some hospitals are carrying on, despite the odds, but function only partially… with reduced levels of staff, medicine and equipment,” the spokeswoman said. “If the guns fall silent and there are no further attacks… health structures and water pumps need repairs and medical equipment and medicines are in short supply.”

Yet if the assault happens, the situation would look even worse. The population of Idlib, which is now 2.9 million – including one million children – would have few places to turn if an attack came to fruition. Turkey, fearing another influx of refugees, has shut its borders; while nearby regions are already overwhelmed by displaced people.

For now, Syrians must hope the deal between Russia and Turkey holds, and that the efforts of international aid organisations, including UK-based charity Syria Relief, continue their vital work. But whatever the outcome, Dr Ali and the health service will try to endure:

“We are doctors and medical staff, and there are millions of civilians in Idlib….We’re ready to keep our medical facilities going. We will do what we can.”

As the people of Syria face an ever more precarious reality, we urge you to donate what you can to Syria Relief, or any other charity of your choice.

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