Trapped civilians fear the Syrian regime is destroying vital facilities, including hospitals and rescue organisations, to clear the way for brutal ground assaults.
With another round of Astana talks ending on April 26, at least three million civilians are holding their breath in Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, fearing a large scale military operation.
With no peace in sight, people in Idlib are figuring out ways to survive. From incendiary weapons like barrel and vacuum bombs to the looming threat of an intense military assaults led by the forces of Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, the besieged civilians — men, women and children — are expecting the worst.
“My father is dead, my husband is in Turkey and I am here with my family stuck here with my 10-year-old child, I can’t sleep nor stand the sounds of explosions anymore,” Samar al Khaled, a civilian from the northwestern city of Saraqeb in Idlib, told TRT World.
“We have no bunkers to hide, no escape route like the one we had in east Ghouta, where I came from last year. Here, explosions are happening suddenly, though we hear helicopters flying over our head day and night in the past days,” she added.
“I am very desperate to be with my husband, I could not follow him and be with him, we are all stuck here, living the moment and not knowing if we will last for another 24 hours, warplanes and helicopters are not leaving the sky.”
Idlib, which shares a 130-kilometre border with Turkey, falls under an upcoming buffer zone agreed by Russia and Turkey, in which both countries will conduct joint patrols to maintain peace.
The Assad-led Syrian regime has constantly violated the peace agreement since it was signed in the Russian city of Sochi last September.
The past few weeks have been considered the most intense as Assad's forces aggressively attack the region.
“We were unwilling to leave the village, we couldn’t afford going anywhere else, my husband was stubborn about it despite the attack,” Samar said.
“On Wednesday morning whilst preparing food for breakfast, he was planning to go for some bread as the bakeries were closed, I did not allow him to leave and to give up on it, I was afraid that he would die because the bombs were falling randomly around us, but the attack came to our house, God knows what is his condition now,” Samar said.
“We are left alone here, with or without a deal, nothing changed here, our life will always be in a circle of displacement and death, wherever we go or try to escape, we will not find peace.”
In his latest statement, the UN humanitarian coordinator said schools, health facilities and residential areas have been hit and the regime forces are employing the worst barrel bombing in at least 15 months.
"Now, the bombing has returned and is much heavier and has spread very widely in Jabal al Zawiya and rural northern Hama," Ahmad al Dbis, Safety and Security Manager for the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), told Reuters News Agency.
"The planes are not stopping at all and the bombing is continuing in a very big way like yesterday and worse," al Dbis added.
A large number of the injured are being moved to Turkey as many hospitals and health clinics have come under attack and are running short of staff and equipment.
Dr Hosam Mohammad, Director of Idlib's Harm hospital, told TRT World that the region's entire health sector is under a massive strain and the latest aid cut by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has turned the situation completely grim.
"The medical staff has always been poor in terms of numbers and resources, and with too little we are trying to contain a huge crisis,” Hosam said.
"On the other hand, critically wounded civilians must be urgently moved to Turkey. But they are being held at the border for long time and the delay puts their lives in danger.”
Hosam said it's on the Syrian side where patients are held for long hours and made to go through 'unnecessary' checks and measures. "This needs to change. We need to save more lives,” Hosam told TRT World.
Hosam said the trapped civilians fear that Assad's game plan is to first destroy vital facilities, including hospitals and rescue work organisations, and then end the siege with brutal ground assaults.
“On top of financial troubles, hospitals are once against under fire," said Dr Zaher Sahloul, President of MedGlobal, which provides logistical support to local hospitals and clinics in northern Syria. "In the last couple of weeks, four hospitals were deliberately targeted in Hama, Idlib and Aleppo. They all are now defunct.”
According to the UN, at least 300,000 civilians are estimated to have fled their homes from northwest Syria since September 2018, when a ceasefire deal was signed by the Assad regime and other stakeholders during the Sochi summit in Russia.
“An offensive will happen sooner rather than later. It's just difficult to say how soon,” Ahmad Rahal, a military expert and former FSA commander based in Istanbul, told TRT World.
“Personally, I would guess that Russians and the regime would continue what they have already started.”
Rahal spoke critically of the Sochi deal saying nothing concrete was achieved in it. "No one agreed on anything during the talks, thus, chaos and no outcome on the ground has been achieved,” Rahal said.