Civilians Killed In Escalating Violence in Syria's Idlib

Russian and Syrian government forces have stepped up attacks in the rebel stronghold, with civilians suffering the most.

Muhammad Barakat visits the grave of his daughter, Maryam, in Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib [Mohamad Daboul/Al Jazeera]

Maryam Barakat’s marriage last month was quiet due to a recent escalation in bombings by Syrian and Russian forces in the rebel stronghold of Idlib, northwest Syria. Few people came – those who did were careful not to sound their car horns in celebration.

Despite the war, Maryam, 20, had managed to continue her studies and graduated this year as a midwife. It was while studying midwifery at university that Maryam met her future husband, 25-year-old Taha Taqa, who was training to become an anaesthetist.

“I told Taha one day that I had never seen two people this close to one another. They could not live apart from one another. Taha’s life was Maryam and Maryam’s life was Taha,” Mohamed Taqa, Taha’s father, told Al Jazeera. They married on July 10.

But their marriage was brutally curtailed – it lasted just a week.

Taqa’s family was damaged in an air attack by Syrian government forces in the village of Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib [Mohamad Daboul/Al Jazeera]

On July 18, they prepared to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday with family in the village of Jabal al-Zawiya.

“All the men were sitting in front of the house when we heard a sound,” Mohamed Taqa told Al Jazeera.

“Moments later, a big explosion happened and I was thrown on the ground. I could no longer move and I was breathing very heavily. We were screaming for the paramedics.”

The family home was hit by what witnesses have told Al Jazeera was most likely a laser-guided artillery shell fired by Syrian government forces. Remnants of Russian-made artillery shells were found on the ground.

Taha was badly injured in the attack. He is now conscious and being treated in a hospital across the border in Turkey.

Maryam was killed.

“Words cannot describe her,” Maryam’s eldest brother Bashar says. “I did not see anything but good from her.”

Maryam Barakat’s brother Bashar holds up his phone displaying a photo of the family’s dinner in Idlib [Mohamad Daboul/Al Jazeera]

The shelling that killed Maryam is the latest in a series escalation in attacks over the last two months in Idlib, the last rebel-held bastion in Syria, according to the United Nations.

The latest violence comes despite a ceasefire signed in March 2020 between Turkey, which backs opposition armed groups in control of much of Idlib province, and Russia, the Syrian government’s closest ally.

Some four million civilians currently live in Idlib – mostly women and children. The UN estimates there are 2.8 million displaced people in northwestern Syria – many sheltering in severely overcrowded displacement camps and with nowhere left to run as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies have gradually retaken much of the territory lost since 2011.

The UN’s Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Cutts warned in a statement provided to Al Jazeera that civilians in Idlib have been “bearing the brunt of a serious escalation in bombing, the most deadly since a ceasefire was agreed in March 2020”.

He also said people in Idlib are “trapped in a war zone”, calling on all parties to the conflict “to protect civilians in accordance with international law”.

In June and July, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that, as a result of air attacks and shelling, 66 civilians (including 16 women and 33 children) have been killed and hundreds injured.

The spokesperson for the UN special envoy for Syria, Jenifer Fenton, said there is a danger that the de-escal