For nearly three months, the world’s attention has rightfully centred on Gaza, drawn by the distressing realities that have been 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 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are exploiting the unfolding atrocities in Palestine to advance their agendas.

Capitalising 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. Al-Assad is strategically denouncing Israel’s actions — not out of moral objection but as a means to assume a false moral high ground and cleanse the regime’s tarnished reputation.

Despite the varying scales of conflict, Gaza did not stand as the sole intense battleground in the Levant from October onwards. Idlib, the last enclave controlled by opposition fighters in Syria and home to 4.5 million people, has experienced its most intense military escalation in three years.

Since early October, the sustained military campaign waged against Idlib has zeroed explicitly in on civilian zones within Idlib city and its neighbouring rural districts. While air strikes have been part of the onslaught, the Syrian regime has heavily relied on ground attacks, employing rocket launchers and artillery weaponry.

Indiscriminate attacks
Human Rights organisations have confirmed the deliberate nature of these assaults, strategically targeting densely populated civilian areas situated far from the frontlines. Additionally, over 120 vital civilian facilities have been intentionally hit, indicating a concerted effort to maximise damage to the infrastructure serving the local inhabitants.

This escalation killed around 200 civilians — the majority of whom are children and 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 stands out starkly against previous escalation patterns in Idlib. Past clashes between the regime and opposition forces 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.

Analysts think the recent escalation is geared towards pressuring opposition forces to open the crucial M4 and M5 highways, vital arteries facilitating international trade for Syria. Though speculative, these assertions carry weight.

Condemnations carry little weight
Meanwhile, regime officials have strongly condemned Israel’s actions towards Palestinians in Gaza and beyond. On various occasions, al-Assad sharply criticised the ongoing Israeli air strikes in Gaza, explicitly highlighting the deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals. He also stressed the urgent necessity to cease the bombings and safeguard the population.

Aligning with these sentiments, the Syrian foreign minister repeatedly stressed that the victims in Gaza are not just numbers and called for an end to the killing of civilians. Similarly, regime officials have frequently urged the international community to investigate Israel’s reported use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon.

Notably, these statements have 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.

Most of the people I have spoken to view these statements as a deliberate distraction from the regime’s extensive history of atrocities. They also highlight the glaring parallels between the assaults in Gaza and the regime’s offences against Syrians, interpreting these statements as an attempt to assuage his own guilt.

Documented crimes
Extensively documented regime 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 al-Assad, preventing any attempt to claim a false moral high ground or to cleanse his tarnished reputation.

It is crucial to note that al-Assad’s efforts to exploit the ongoing atrocities in Gaza should not undermine or diminish the urgent and rightful calls for their immediate cessation. This vital fact has not escaped 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 any 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.

Al Majalla Magzine