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His Daughter Froze to Death. She Wasn't the Only One

The battle for Idlib is causing a mass exodus, and children are dying

(Newser) – If you've grown somewhat numb to the nine-year-old Syrian civil war, this week's headlines may be enough to give you a jolt: "Syria's worst humanitarian catastrophe in its ... civil war is now unfolding," proclaims Vox. "Children Freeze to Death as Attack Prompts Largest Exodus of Syrian War," writes the New York Times. To understand what's changed, you need to understand Idlib: It's the final rebel stronghold, a northwestern province whose main city is also called Idlib. The area is home to about 3 million people, roughly half of whom arrived there from elsewhere in Syria during the war's earlier years. And now they must flee again as Bashar al-Assad and his Russia-backed forces try to take it. Coverage:

  • "This is creating an unfathomable humanitarian catastrophe," writes Jen Kirby at Vox, where she cites a UN estimate that at least 900,000 people have fled Idlib since Dec. 1, with most headed north toward the closed Turkish border. It's a brutal time to flee, with winter temps dropping below freezing and many having just a tent for shelter; others shelter under only trees.

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  • The BBC reports 1 million of those who'd been living in Idlib are children, and the Assad regime appears to specifically be targeting them. The Guardian reports six schools and two nurseries in and near the city of Idlib were hit in targeted airstrikes Tuesday, killing 21 people. It spoke with one teacher in Idlib city who said the bombing started at 8am. As teachers began sending kids home, the schoolyard was struck; three teachers and one student died. War monitors say at least 22 educational spots have been hit in 2020.
  • The Times has wrenching stories of those who fled, including that of Ahmad Yassin Leila, who has spent three weeks living with his family in a "half-finished concrete shell," suffering through nightly temps around 20 degrees. His 18-month-old daughter froze to death, one of nine children who the Times says has frozen recently. "I dream about being warm," says Leila. "I don't want anything except a house with windows that keeps out the cold and the wind."
  • There's something compounding the issue, reports the Washington Post: The Syrian aid workers who make up the bulk of "the global response to the humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib" are finding themselves also homeless and exposed to the elements.
  • CNN reports UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently called for an immediate ceasefire in Idlib. But in a Tuesday address before the UN Human Rights Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said such a thing would be a "capitulation to terrorists."
  • Turkey has been moving troops and equipment into the region, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed to rid its observation posts in Idlib of regime forces. "We are planning to liberate our observation posts ... by the end of this month, one way or another," he said. Reuters notes, however, that Assad's men made inroads on Wednesday in the province's south, where they seized some villages.
(Read more Syrian civil war stories.)

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