Hudhayfa al-Shahad strapped a colorful paper cup filled with cotton and charcoal to a child’s face and tightened a plastic bag around his head: an improvised gas mask if chemicals once again fall on Syria’s Idlib.
Civilians in Syria’s last major stronghold of active opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule are preparing food and digging shelters ahead of an expected army offensive.
They are also putting their faith in neighboring Turkey’s diplomacy to spare them from military action, which could become a humanitarian disaster.
“We are preparing what little we can: small primitive masks we can place on our children’s mouths in case we are hit with chemicals,” 20-year-old Shahad told Reuters from his village south of Idlib city, where he shares a house with his pregnant wife, three children and around 15 other people.
His brother, 35-year-old construction worker Ahmed Abdulkarim al-Shahad, shows off the cavernous space under a cool, vine-covered courtyard the family has been digging and sheltering in from bombardment since 2012.
“Military preparations as we have seen are in full swing ... We as civilians have started preparing the caves,” he said, showing glass bottles of pickled vegetables shelved on the damp cave walls.
Around 3 million people live in the rebel stronghold in northwest Syria, which comprises most of Idlib province and adjacent small parts of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.
About half of them fled fighting or were transferred there by the government under surrender deals from other parts of Syria as Assad has steadily taken back territory from rebels.
In April last year, a government warplane dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, killing more than 80 civilians, the UN Commission of Inquiry has said. It also said Syrian forces have used chemical weapons, including chlorine, more than two dozen times during the war.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر