Nearly 50,000 people have been displaced since the Syrian government and its Russian allies escalated an offensive in the southern province of Deraa last week, prompting concerns at the United Nations over where these displaced civilians have to run.
Airstrikes, mortar shells, and barrel bombs have pounded the area, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The goal of the campaign seems to be regaining control of the town as well as the border with Jordan.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is worried that those fleeing the assault and moving closer to the border with Jordan will have nowhere to go. Jordan has sealed its border, insisting it will take no more Syrians as it is already hosting 660,000 Syrian refugees, as well as more than one million additional unregistered displaced civilians fleeing the neighboring civil war.
Smoke rises above opposition held areas of Daraa during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 26, 2018. Russian-backed regime forces have for weeks been preparing an offensive to retake Syria’s south, a strategic zone that borders both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. CREDIT: Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safa said via Twitter that while there were currently displaced people at the border, the country would nonetheless remain sealed and that it was the responsibility of the United Nations to secure the displaced within Syria’s borders.
The amplified strikes, which started over the weekend (the offensive started on June 18), are in violation of a negotiated 2017 ceasefire that covered Daraa and Quneitra. While the United States issued a statement condemning the strikes, the AP reports that rebels in Syria were told “not to expect an American intervention to defend them.”
This is a mistake, said Suzanne Meriden, executive director of the Syrian American Council, a grassroots organization in support of U.S. intervention in Syria.
“The ceasefire has been broken by Russia — something that actually the U.S. brokered, and unfortunately, we’re not saying anything about it,” she told ThinkProgress. “And now you have a heavily populated area, about 1 million people … and now the Assad regime has gone on this offensive against the people of Daraa, and for the first time in a year he [President Bashar al-Assad] is using barrel bombs again, and all kind of other weapons, going crazy on this poor town.”
Not doing anything to meaningfully counter the violation of the ceasefire, said Meridan, means the United States “will lose [its] standing before the international community as people who can broker deals and hold on them.”
Daraa is a geopolitically important, as it is close to the borders of Israel and Jordan. The town is also considered to be “the heart of the revolution,” said Meriden as it was the launching ground for the protests that lead to the uprising.
Media focus might have shifted away from Syria in recent weeks, but, said Meriden, “Nothing has changed in Syria.”
“Unfortunately, we’re watching a massacre in the making … these [internally displaced people] are fleeing. They cannot be refugees because they cannot enter other countries,” she said. “They’re going to be ready to be killed because they have nowhere to run … they’re going to to be under fire, and we’re going to see many more deaths, many more killed, many more maimed.”
In addition to fighting and airstrikes from the the Syrian government and its Russian supporters who are trying to force rebels out of the area, civilians have also been subjected to Israeli missiles.
According to Syrian state media, Israel struck targets near Damascus International Airport on Tuesday. Israel has been carrying out strikes in support of rebels, striking Iranian and Russian positions that are supporting Syrian government forces.
Syria’s brutal civil war, which started as a popular uprising in 2011, has grown increasingly complicated each year, drawing in multiple international players as well as fighters for various rebel groups and the self-proclaimed Islamic State from all over the world.
At least half a million Syrians have been killed since the start of the fighting, and half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced within the country and elsewhere.