BEIRUT: Intense fighting between Syrian government troops and insurgents in Syria’s central Hama province displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September, the UN humanitarian agency said. Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the highway to Damascus.
The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund Al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011.
In a “flash update” on Tuesday, OCHA said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate. Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. Dozens of schools in rural areas of Hama province were also turned into shelters.
A shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, the UN agency said. Most of those fleeing left towns and villages in government areas as the rebels advanced. They feared a violent government response to the insurgent offensive, according to Ahmad Al-Ahmad, an activist from Hama. “Wherever the regime is driven out of an area, it ends up destroying it,” he said in a text message to The Associated Press.
In at least one airstrike last week, government warplanes struck a van carrying displaced people fleeing Suran, a town north of Hama city, activists said. The government says it is targeting “terrorists.” OCHA said the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation. An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year. Of those, 4.8 million are refugees with nearly 7 million displaced internally.
Oppn fleshes out post-Assad plan
Syria’s opposition set out detailed plans yesterday for the transition to a democratic state without President Bashar Al-Assad ahead of talks with ministers of EU, US and regional powers in London. The broad-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC) proposed a six-month negotiating phase between the regime and the opposition.
The subsequent 18 months would see Syria governed by a transitional body, made up of opposition figures, current government representatives and members of civil society, according to a 25-page blueprint. “Syria wants to see Bashar leave. If Bashar leaves will the fighting go on? No,” HNC head Riad Hijab said. The proposals, and the talks hosted by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, come after intense discussions by the United States and Russia over a possible path to end the five and a half year conflict.
An agreement was believed to have been close at the G20 summit earlier this week in China, but Washington then admitted no deal could be announced for the moment. US Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the talks in London via videolink, but Russia is not represented. “The aim of the meeting in London is to prepare a common position and make the case to the United States, while there are persistent rumors about the conclusion of a US-Russian deal,” a French diplomatic source told AFP.
The HNC’s plans are largely in line with existing international proposals for a post-war Syria, although unlike the so-called Vienna framework, they are clear about the president’s future. “The establishment of the Transitional Governing Body shall require the departure of Bashar Al-Assad and his clique who committed heinous crimes against the Syrian people,” it said. The goal is “building a political system that protects freedoms, safeguards individual rights, and that is founded upon the principles of liberty, equality, citizenship, and justice”, it said. – Agencies