The fragile truce in Syria’s Idlib province looks as if maybe severely tested over the next few weeks. President Assad is on record as saying he intends to take back ‘every inch’ of territory lost in the 7-year long war, and rebel groups have vowed to defend what little ground they still hold. We fear an outbreak of fighting will once again result in the innocent being caught in the crossfire.
In December 2016 we managed to help rescue 500 injured children trapped in Aleppo, and in December 2017, 29 children dying of curable cancer in Ghouta. These children survived but many have perished in this cruellest of conflicts. In December 2018 Idlib province is the only area not under regime control in Syria. It is the children who are the future of Syria and they have suffered the most. It appears around 75% have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and around 50% are incontinent because of this. This is our collective legacy of non-intervention.
There are 4 million civilians trapped in Idlib much of which is controlled by the remnants of the jihadists, this is an area similar to the size of the Isle of Wight. There is an uneasy peace but bandits are running riot across the province, kidnapping anybody of value especially doctors, and ransoming for as much as $50,000. However, frequently families simply do not have the funds to pay and the kidnapped end up being murdered. These desperate people cannot get out and aid cannot get in. These are the conditions to provide a breeding ground for the Jihadists and return of ISIS. The Charities Commission has issued guidance that supplying aid to Idlib could counter UK Counter Terrorism laws. Hence aid has ceased to get to those neediest. Aid only comes via the UN and WHO via Damascus and it would appear from reliable sources that up to 75% of this is syphoned off by the regime. The UOSSM and Syria Relief hospitals we support are now fast running out of medicines, and food is becoming scarce. The potential for another humanitarian catastrophe is now almost certain if we continue to do nothing.
This year we have continued to support hospitals in Syria through the David Nott Foundation, Syria Relief and UOSSM. Training surgeons and first responders in Idlib to provide the bare essential medical care for those unfortunate enough to be left in Idlib. With little hope of getting children out of Idlib, this year we are raising money to support children’s medical care in Syria. We have also re-trained first responders on handling chemical casualties and to collect evidence an attack, as the UN inspectors, the ‘Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ cannot themselves get to the sites of these attacks.
Short of Western ‘boots on the ground’ it is difficult, at this juncture to see what will prevent this deprivation of humankind unfolding in front of us. It is clear there is little appetite for this but possibly the UN, with backing from the US, UK and France could put monitors on the ground in Idlib, perhaps also supported and protected by the Turkish military to ensure aid gets to those who need it and not just the jihadists who are holding Idlib to ransom?
As we prepare for blanket coverage of Brexit over Christmas, we would like to remind the great people of Britain that there are thousands of children, in the wet and snow of Idlib; some starving, some seriously injured and most missing their education. We should at least try and help, or at the very least remember them in our churches, mosques and synagogues at this time of year, more especially as we are unlikely to liberate them or offer them sanctuary in this country.
Dr David Nott OBE & Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE.
The authors will be appearing on BBC TV’s Victoria Derbyshire on Wednesday morning to discuss these issues.