x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Idlib: regime shows its brutality

Syrians demonstrate in Idlib, north Syria.
Syrians demonstrate in Idlib, north Syria.

One morning during Ramadan, Ahmed went out to buy bread. During his short walk to the shop, a missile nearly hit him.

"This is what the regime does," said Ryan, Ahmed's nephew who lives in Dubai. "They look for where civilians are, and they shell them."

Idlib was quiet during the first few months of the uprising. But after hundreds of soldiers defected in December, the shelling began in earnest as the government and rebels battled for control of the city. More than 4,000 people have died.

The defectors included several members of Ryan's family.

"They went to hide in the mountains - they are safer from the shelling there," he said. "We knew back then things would turn bloody and the regime would show us their brutality."

In June, hundreds of acres of crops on farms around the city were destroyed by regime forces.

"After people have spent their energy growing crops, they destroyed all the crops, deliberately, just as people were about to harvest," said Ryan. "These were the people's crops."

That left the people of the city to rely on wheat supplied by the government, which has quadrupled in price.

"A bag of six pieces of bread used to cost about Dh1.50," he said. "Now it is Dh6 - and that is if it can be even found, usually it is not. This is a big problem because most Syrians are used to eating with bread. If there is no bread, they don't eat."

Conditions did not improve during Ramadan. "They would target people during suhoor and iftar during Ramadan," said Ryan. "That is when the majority of attacks took place.

"But we knew at the start of the revolution there was a lot of corruption and the price we would have to pay would be high."

As the situation in Idlib worsened, those who fled found themselves still in danger.

Hazim, who has family in the city, said the regime killed all Sunnis they found from Idlib. "They think all people from Idlib, by default, are Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "But that is not true."

A few weeks ago, Hazim's 17-year-old cousin, who lived in Damascus and whose father was a supporter of the government and worked at the interior ministry, was killed because he was from Idlib.

"He was working at a garage in Damascus, just after he finished school. But on his way home, they stopped him and checked his ID and found he was from Idlib, so they killed him."

* Ola Salem