At least 500,000 children are among the more than 800,000 people, including Christians, who have been displaced over the last two-and-a-half months as the Bashar al-Assad regime carries on with its attacks in the last remaining rebel-held enclaves in northwest Syria amid very cold weather and rains.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore has described the situation as “untenable, even by Syria’s grim standards.”
“Children and families are caught between the violence, the biting cold, the lack of food and the desperate living conditions,” Fore said in a statement released by UNICEF, which has also reported that at least 28 children have been killed and 49 injured. “Such abject disregard for the safety and well-being of children and families is beyond the pale and must not go on.”
There are reports that regime artillery and Russian aircraft have struck rebel positions in Idlib’s cities, from where residents are fleeing, mostly toward the Turkish border in the north where they are now living in tents and in the open air in extremely cold weather with little food, water and blankets.
While the attacks have led to a major humanitarian crisis, Syrian President al-Assad appeared to celebrate it. “We know this liberation does not mean the end of the war or the crushing of all plots or the end of terror or the surrender of the enemy, but it definitely rubs their noses in the dirt,” Assad said, according to The Washington Post. “This is a prelude to [the rebels’] final defeat, sooner or later.”
Fore said it was time for “the guns to go silent and for the violence to stop once and for all.”
“Parties to the conflict must protect children and the infrastructure on which they depend, give families respite and allow humanitarian workers to respond to the massive needs, in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
U.S. Representative for Louisiana, Ralph Abraham, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recently visited eastern Syria to meet with Kurdish and Christian leaders. He also visited Tel Tamr, a Christian area that has been threatened by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, according to The Jerusalem Post, which said pro-regime militias and Russian forces have attacked U.S. patrols in the area.
“The purpose of my trip was to express my deep concerns for the safety of Christians and other persecuted minorities in the region as well as my support for self-governance among the Kurds,” Abraham told The Hill.
Last month, three board members of Syrian Christians for Peace, wrote an op-ed for The Christian Post, highlighting the targeted violence against Syrians of all faiths, including Christians, which they said is “a daily occurrence in the other two-thirds of the country controlled by a man whose unique sadistic tendencies have shocked the world: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
Assad, who is a Shia in a Sunni-majority Syria, “has used his status to garner sympathy and set himself up as the ‘protector of Christians.’ We know better,” they wrote.
“In September, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, relied upon for civilian death tolls by the U.N. since it stopped counting in 2014, released a report counting the number of Christian houses of worship targeted by all parties to the conflict — regime, opposition, ISIS, al-Qaeda and others,” they continued. “The results were damning: of the 124 churches targeted for shelling, bombing or military use since 2011, nearly two-thirds were at the hands of Assad’s forces, backed up by Russian air power and Iranian militias.”
The authors added that Christians likewise were among victims documented in the “Caesar” photos taken by a regime defector. “His 55,000 images presented bodies of protesters grotesquely mutilated and tortured almost beyond recognition, if not for the carefully cataloguing practices of Assad’s machinery of death that include identifying numbers for each victim. The photos are the strongest evidence of war crimes since the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis, according to the former U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Stephen Rapp. Christians are among those whose eyes were gouged out, bodies electrocuted, stomachs starved and throats slit. Assad’s leash of “protection” runs as long as his desire for control, and no further.”
In a recent essay published in the Time magazine, actor Angelina Jolie, who has visited Syria several times since 2011, wrote she had initially hoped that raising awareness of the suffering would be enough to make a significant difference. “But now, nearly a decade later, it strikes me as a metaphor for the Syrian conflict itself: the shattered innocence of a generation of children; the irreversible damage inflicted upon a secular, multiethnic society; and the years of pleas for help that have gone unanswered.”