The evidence of urban warfare in northern Syria

8 December 2012

It isn’t strictly true to say that GOAL does not take sides in a conflict situation. 

 Haram town bears the scars of conflict

While we absolutely never side with a warring faction, we always emphatically align ourselves with those who are the greatest sufferers in any conflict: that is, with the innocent civilian populations who are always caught in the middle, like between a hammer and an anvil. So it is with Syria, where GOAL has recently begun delivering consignments of blankets and food to displaced families in the Northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. 

Our operations there are being conducted by two of GOAL’s most experienced members of staff, Frank McManus and Ernest Halilov. 

For the past 18 months or so, as war has raged in Syria, world attention has largely been focused on the changing fortunes of the opposing forces of the al-Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army rebels. The suffering of the civilian population has been of little more than peripheral interest. Yet of the estimated 20,000/30,000 people killed thus far, the overwhelming majority has been non-combatants. But that tells only part of the story.

More than 400,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries to escape conflict. They, in many respects, are the lucky ones. Another 1.25 million people driven from their homes by the violence are stuck inside Syria, unable to afford to travel far. Most of these are living in schools, mosques, or outdoors in makeshift shelters often without access to food, clean water, sanitation, and medical care. The UN estimates that currently 2.5 million people in Syria are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and expects this number to rise to 4 million by the beginning of next year. 

 A Syrian family in Haram

Along with Frank and GOAL’s global security advisor, David Napier, I recently visited Haram town, in Northern Syria. To say that this town has suffered badly from the conflict would be to indulge in gross understatement. The evidence of urban warfare is everywhere: barely a building is not pockmarked with bullet holes, and every house and shop is badly damaged or completely blown apart. Parts of Haram have been bombed to rubble. 

Almost the entire 22,000 population has decamped to surrounding towns and villages to escape the regular aerial bombardments. Because of age or infirmity, some people couldn’t move, no matter the danger. One old lady we spoke to in Haram had lost her husband when the government’s aerial attacks levelled her house. She is now living in a neighbour’s basement, completely dependent upon her friend’s charity to survive. 

In the surrounds of Haram, we met a family with small children living in a former cattle shed. It was commonplace to come upon three or four families sharing a room. Scores of others are camped under trees. All are struggling to survive. With the onset of winter, the plight of those with young children is becoming ever more acute. 

With a bit of effort and ingenuity aid agencies can at least reach displaced people in the Northern provinces of Syria. This isn’t the case for most of the rest of the country, where numerous cities, towns and villages have been destroyed and their populations forced to flee en masse. When eventually these people can be reached, it will take a mammoth aid effort to address their needs. We need to start that effort now.

If you would like to contribute to GOAL’s Syria Appeal, you can do so here.

- David Adams, GOAL Media Officer

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