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Assad’s offensive into Idlib and the continuing agony of the Syrian democrats

by Joseph Green, Detroit Workers’ Voice

Idlib province is the last part of Syria which is directly opposed to the Assad dictatorship (the PYD, which controls the Kurdish enclave of Rojava, seeks accommodation with Assad). (1) Large numbers of displaced people from elsewhere in Syria are in Idlib; of the three million people there, about half have been displaced or forcibly evacuated from elsewhere in Syria. Over 150 local councils were set up by anti-Assad activists in Idlib, many having the first local elections these residents had ever seen, and various councils remained active this year. The civilian democrats are opposed both to Assad and the dictates of the Islamic extremists of the HTS who have pushed aside the other armed anti-Assad fighters. HTS now dominates the armed resistance in Idlib, and it seeks to dominate the local population. But the local councils have resisted, and there have been repeated struggles between the democratic activists and HTS; most recently, according to the activist Leila Al-Shami, there were a series of protests across Idlib in November. (2)

There were supposed truce agreements concerning Idlib, but the Syrian government is now brutally moving into Idlib in the same bloody fashion as it has ravaged the rest of Syria. This is becoming a major humanitarian disaster, with large numbers of people fleeing but with nowhere to go.

Russia, the Trump administration, and the butcher Assad all claim that Idlib is simply a hotbed of Islamic extremists, but this is not only a lie, but a justification for criminal policies that stamp out the real resistance in Idlib to political or religious dictatorship. As Al-Shami writes

“The existence of extremist militant groups in Idlib province is the justification given by the regime and its Russian ally for continuing their aerial assault. Yet these airstrikes, which usually target residential areas and vital civilian infrastructure, and which maim and kill men, women and children, create the chaos and despair in which extremist groups thrive.

“The presence of such groups also provides the rationale for withdrawal of donor funding to civil society organizations over fears it may end up in the wrong hands. Yet the resistance to extremism comes most successfully from local communities that have strong civil society networks and, critically, where women whose rights are most under threat actively participate. A serious anti-extremism policy would require an end to the bombing of civilians, and the continuation of funds and support for women’s civil society groups.” (3)

Meanwhile, much of the left has washed its hands of what’s going on in Syria, or even supported the Assad dictatorship. This reached the point where part of the left even declares that unarmed medical workers in rebel-held areas in Syria are imperialist agents, and have denounced the White Helmets that heroically provide some medical relief for the Syrian people. Last month, when James Le Mesurier, a co-founded of the White Helmets, was found dead in Turkey last month on November 11, it was the occasion for another round of bile from Assad’s apologists.

It is only among the people, not the big powers, that we can expect to find sympathy for the Syrian people, who have persisted in struggle under the most difficult conditions. Denounce the offensive against Idlib and the stepped-up bombing of civilians! Solidarity with the Syrian people and their struggle against the Ba’ath party dictatorship led by Assad is also the only way to oppose the plans for Syria by the outside powers, including the Trump administration.

More material on the context of the present fighting in Idlib can be found at http://www.communistvoice.org/DSWV-180913.html.


(1) The Kurdish people have fought for decades against national oppression, and Syrian Kurds have also played an important part in the overall struggle against the Assad dictatorship. One of the obstacles of the struggle against the Assad dictatorship has been the lack of sufficient recognition of legitimate Kurdish demands by the democratic movement. But another obstacle has been that the PYD leadership, which insists on its domination over all Kurdish and other political trends in Rojava, has washed its hands of the general anti-Assad movement. It doesn’t realize that, whatever PYD’s deals with the outside powers, the final defeat of the Syrian democrats will likely bring additional tragedy to the Kurds.

(2) See “Idlib resists” in Leila al-Shami’s blog for November 9, 2019 (https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2019/11/09/idlib-resists/). Al-Shami was a co-author of “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, 2016.

(3) From “Women Are at the Forefront of Challening Extremism in Idlib”, July 218, https://syria.chathamhouse.org/research/women-are-at-the-forefront-of-challenging-extremism-in-idlib <>

Syrians call upon the world to act urgently to stop the intensified bombing of civilians in Idlib

Below is the text of a statement from the “Half of Syria” campaign initiated by “We Exist”, a bloc of 24 Syrian civil society organizations. (4)

Brutal attacks continue deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure and homes. They are happening in tandem with threats of military invasion, the fear of which has stampeded more than sixty thousand civilians (most of them already violently displaced more than once by the Syrian government).

This Russian-backed blitz comes despite many ceasefires and de-escalation agreements – including the Sochi Agreement, which was worded so as not to provide any mechanism to prevent such humanitarian catastrophes from taking place.

This military onslaught has targeted civilian areas where there are no armed groups or military installations: homes, public streets and squares, markets, schools, bakeries, mosques, and medical centres, especially in southern Idlib, including Ma’arrat An Nu’man. Those fleeing this vengeful violence are noncombatants, who have lost absolutely everything.

These targeted airstrikes raze private homes and other civilian infrastructures, in order to prevent displaced Syrian families from returning to their dwellings or communities.

Traumatised and now destitute families face enforced displacement yet again. Women, children, and the elderly are bearing the brunt of this Assad regime and Putin-led war of annihilation.

The suddenly forced displacement of tens of thousands of IDPs can cause strain on host communities – themselves lacking in resources and the financial ability to support their own basic needs. Because of widespread bombing and the targeting of internally-displaced persons’ camps, like the strike on Qah camp, desperate families are unable to find safe shelter anywhere.

The targeting of civilians, the forced emptying of cities by airstrikes and shelling, the destruction of homes and other private property are all grievous violations of international law.

In particular, they violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians, which prohibits the collective or individual forcible transfer of people from their areas of residence.

These horrific violations of international law need an immediate and united response from International community and those of conscience in the world, to:

● Stop the deliberate targeting and the forced displacement of civilians. After all, the technology is available to recognize the noncombatant status of families, with the imperative to cease from targeting them.

● Call upon all parties and states/ governments involved in the Syrian conflict, especially Russia, Turkey and Iran as guarantors of the de-escalation agreement, to commit to protecting the lives of civilians across northern Syria.

● Agitate to make the UN Security Council responsible in monitoring adherence to international humanitarian and human rights laws and to hold perpetrators accountable for war crime violations – even if member states complicit in this massacre have seats in the UNSC.

● Ensure immediate protection of displaced civilians and provision of immediate shelter, medical and food resources.


(4) A description of the “Half of Syria” campaign can be found at https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/08/half-of-syria-campaign-reminder-of-internally-displaced-and-refugee-syrians/.

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