Syria’s suffering is an extraordinary desolation, and Idlib has seen the face desperation.
They thought that their situation couldn’t get worse than running from bombings and hiding from regime bombs. But, what was already a terrible life for millions has been made even more difficult by the earthquake.
People are afraid of the cold and hunger that will soon kill them.
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People who fled Bashar al-Assad’s bullets and bombs 12 years ago are now running as their homes and infrastructure collapsed.
Salquin was occupied by the White Helmets civil defense group from Syria, which receives funding through the UK. They searched through rubble piles.
Although the chances of finding someone alive seem crazily high, they continue to search and dig. It continues day after night.
A young man was rescued from here just 12 hours before. They are able to keep going because of such instances.
They are motivated by the realization that they are alone and there is no one to help them.
Five days after the worst earthquakes in this area in a century, it appears that there is no international assistance and no search and rescue teams.
“Children living in rubble are not terrorists”
Idlib is the last area of Syria that is fighting Basher al Assad’s regime at Damascus. It is occupied by an armed group called Hayat Thir al Sham (HTS), led by Abu Mohammed al Jolani.
Before he left al Qaeda, he was a member of al Qaeda. He then formed his own fighting force against not only al Qaeda but also Islamic State cells and the Assad regime.
He is still on the terrorist most-wanted lists of a variety of countries, including the US.
We spoke with him at Salquin, where they were looking for a family member missing. He denounced the international community’s inaction for helping the people of northwest Syria.
He said, “The children found beneath this rubble aren’t terrorists.”
He urged the world to forget politics and to focus on the people of the region, and to send aid.
“I will not leave until they are found”
A father was seen sitting in darkness clutching a blanket around his dead son, aged four years old.
Mohammed was given the name of the child, his face covered in dust and the blue-grey-cold mask of death.
After four days of being trapped in the rubble for four days, he was finally freed and still wearing his pajamas.
Saleem, Saleem’s father, was shocked, his face was stony and devoid of emotion.
His little boy lay next to a fire, feeling warm, as if it could help him.
Saleem didn’t know if the little boy was alive, but he was trapped in fear for days waiting for help.
Saleem managed to grab Mace’s hand and run, while somehow scrambling to safety.
Mace, eight years old, and Saleem and Mace are the only ones to make it.
Behind them, White Helmets men operated diggers to dig through the rubble. Meanwhile, their colleagues lifted rocks and pulled on blankets that were peeking out from them.
They were looking for Saleem’s 10-year old son Abdul Razek, and his wife Amira.
He said, “I won’t leave until they are found,” “I cannot.”
Sometimes he breaks off, pleading with the White Helmets for help in finding other corners of their once home.
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Mustafa Kharzum is the Team leader and he understands all about the pain of losing a child.
He died of illness, but the grief at losing a child does not leave a parent.
Mustafa states, “I understand what he’s going though and I’ve promised to him that I will not leave until we find his family.”
They stay there through the night, and even into the morning. They are confident that they aren’t still in the rubble by midday, so they begin to walk through the hospitals.
Are they still alive?
They have a moment of hope, but soon they are crushed by the discovery of the bodies of their son and mother in the hospital morgue.
Saleem is devastated. He says that they were his world. “I worked for them.” They were my world. I did everything.
Too much misery to bear
As Mace, his little girl, sobs, crowds of mourners surround the Mashhead Roheen family home close to the Turkish border.
The family fled Ma’arat al Numan, where they lived before the Assad regime troops arrived three years ago.
They survived the long conflict only to have half their family destroyed by the earthquake.
The home’s female relatives wash the bodies of the boys so they can be buried.
Tiny children are crying and howling in grief.
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Fatima, the grandmother, collapses and is lowered to a chair. After three of her sons died in war and fighting, she is now grieving the loss of her daughter and two grandsons.
They can’t bear the pain. For the Syrian people, their heartache never ends and they feel no one is listening to their cries or caring about their pain.
Alex Crawford reported from Idlib, northwestern Syria with Jake Britton and Mahmoud Moa.