The world’s attention has rightly converged on Gaza, compelled by the distressing realities that are unfolding there. The toll on civilian lives, severe blockades, scarcity of essential supplies, and the relentless targeting of civilian infrastructure, residential zones, and camps underscore the gravity of the situation. Adding to this devastating situation, war criminals like Assad are exploiting the unfolding atrocities in Gaza as a smokescreen to advance their own agendas while the world’s attention is fixed elsewhere.
Capitalizing on the world’s singular focus on Gaza, the Syrian regime has strategically intensified its assaults on civilians in Idlib to perpetuate violence with minimal attention. This calculated exploitation extends beyond the battlefield. Assad is strategically denouncing Israel’s actions not out of moral objection, but as a means to cleanse his tarnished reputation.
Gaza was not the sole focus of airstrikes in October. Idlib, the last enclave controlled by opposition fighters in Syria and home to 4.5 million people, experienced its most intense military escalation in three years. The Syrian regime’s attacks, utilizing airstrikes and artillery, predominantly targeted densely populated residential areas. These assaults targeted 88 vital civilian facilities, including 24 schools and 43 health facilities, in addition to markets, camps, water infrastructure and places of worship.
This escalation in October resulted in the tragic deaths of at least 70 civilians, including 27 children and 14 women, and left more than 388 people injured, including 77 children. Russian warplanes have also reportedly carried out 144 airstrikes, resulting in the deaths of nine civilians, including three children and two women. According to the UN, over 120,000 civilians have been displaced from their cities and villages to shelters and camps near the Syrian-Turkish border.
This upsurge in October stands out starkly against previous escalation patterns in Idlib. Past clashes between the regime and opposition forces have usually involved contained skirmishes and shelling, often accompanied by extensive media coverage. However, these recent hostilities have been marked by widespread and seemingly indiscriminate shelling, receiving minimal media attention from pro-government outlets.
Some analysts think that the recent escalation is geared towards pressuring opposition forces for the opening of the crucial M4 and M5 highways, vital arteries facilitating international trade for Syria, connecting the nation to both Europe and the Arabian Gulf. Though speculative, these assertions carry weight. The regime’s relentless assault on Idlib aligns seamlessly with Assad’s longstanding objective of regaining control over these strategic roads.
Meanwhile, regime officials have strongly condemned Israel’s actions towards Palestinians in Gaza and beyond. Notably, Bashar al-Assad traveled to Saudi Arabia to attend an emergency Arab summit convened to discuss strategies to halt the conflict in Gaza. During sideline meetings with various heads of states, he strongly criticized the ongoing Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, specifically highlighting the deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals. He stressed the urgent necessity to cease the bombings and safeguard the population. Besides this, he admonished the West for allowing Israel to persist in these actions while failing to safeguard the Palestinian people.
Aligning with these sentiments, the Syrian foreign minister stressed that the victims in Gaza are ‘not just numbers’ and called for an end to the killing of civilians. Regime officials also urged the international community to investigate Israel’s reported use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon in recent weeks. To help initiate this process, the acting Syrian chargé d’affaires at the UN urged the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate these ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.
Pro-regime media outlets have strongly echoed and celebrated these statements regarding Gaza. However, this has sparked significant backlash and condemnation, both within Syria and abroad. The criticism stems from the stark contradiction between the regime’s condemnation of the brutal Israeli attacks against Palestinians and its own history of crimes and ongoing violations against Syrians spanning the past 12 years.
Discussions with Syrians, including residents of Idlib, shed light on their perception of the Syrian regime’s recent condemnations of Israeli actions against Palestinians. Many individuals I have engaged with underscore the view that these statements serve as a deliberate distraction from the regime’s extensive history of atrocities. They frequently highlight the glaring parallels between the assaults in Gaza and the regime’s offenses against Syrians, interpreting these statements as an endeavor to diminish its own culpability.
Extensively documented regime war crimes paint a clear picture of its responsibility. These violations encompass tactics of collective punishment, indiscriminate shelling, deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, and the use of internationally banned weaponry such as incendiary and cluster munitions, in addition to chemical weapons.
Highlighting these parallels aims not only to set the record straight but also to expose the hypocrisy of Assad, preventing any attempt to claim a false moral high ground.
It is crucial to note that Assad’s effort to exploit the ongoing atrocities in Gaza should not undermine or diminish the urgent and rightful calls for their immediate cessation. This important fact has not escaped the notice of Idlib residents , who, despite the numerous risks they face, have actively protested the events in Gaza. Perhaps they understand better than most the immense cost of allowing perpetrators to commit crimes without facing consequences.
Nevertheless, the world has yet to fully comprehend that unchallenged violations in Gaza would only empower regimes elsewhere to replicate such actions. This is not a mere prediction. The unpunished atrocities committed by Russia in Syria have been replicated on a significant scale in Ukraine. War criminals have been allowed to commit atrocities without facing consequences for far too long, and it is imperative to put an end to this.