Truce in northwestern Syria holds, but humanitarian crisis continues

Truce in northwestern Syria holds, but humanitarian crisis continues
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Late this week, a ceasefire deal was enacted between Turkey and Russia, two countries supporting opposing parties in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

Russia, a longtime backer of the Syrian government, and Turkey, who supports some of the rebel fighters, signed the deal after weeks of intense fighting in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

Idlib is one of the last rebel strongholds in the country. For nine years, the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has fought a civil war against various anti-government militia groups, locking the country in a perpetual crisis.

For now, the truce is reportedly holding, but it remains fragile. Despite the break in fighting, the humanitarian crisis in Idlib province is ongoing. Part of the deal stipulates that territorial gains in the province by the Syrian government and its Russian backers will not be rolled back, meaning those troops will not be leaving the area.

Little hope for return

For many displaced Syrians, the prospect of returning to their homes under these conditions is doubtful. According to Alaa Turki Hammam, a 25-year-old who fled his home in Idlib and is now at a camp near the Turkish border, the deal does little to change his circumstances.

“If we wanted to live under their mercy (the Russian and Syrian governments) we would have stayed there. Now, after this meeting, we have lost even one percent hope that we would return to our homes,” he said.

In all, over one million people have been displaced in Idlib, with the majority of them settling in refugee camps along the border with Turkey. With devastation widespread in the city, it would take time before it can resume functioning, even if the soldiers left.

Salwa Abdul-Rahman, a local journalist, said that many residents feel left out of the peace process. “This matter concerns us, Syrians, but it seems we don’t have a say in this. They are playing chess with us,” she said.

Calm, for now

Russia and Turkey are hopeful that the new deal will lead to sustained peace, but there are also warning signs that conflict could break out again.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the deal “will serve as a good basis for a cessation of military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone,” while Turkish President Recep Erdogan warned that it retained the right to “respond to all (Syrian) regime attacks in the field.”

“The truce is only a chance for the two sides to catch their breath” said Zaqzaq, a local resident living with his wife, five-year old daughter and three-year-old son. “It’s a very fragile truce and I don’t think it will last long.”