IDLIB, Syria: Thousands of protesters in Syria’s rebel enclave of Idlib on Tuesday marked 11 years since an anti-government uprising, buoyed by the global outcry over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Gathered on the main square in the northwestern city of Idlib, more than 5,000 people took part in one of the largest rallies the beleaguered region has seen in months.
Many of the demonstrators hoped that the war launched by the Syrian government’s main backer Russia in Ukraine would rekindle some interest in their cause.
Bashar Assad’s grip on power held by a thread after a nationwide uprising that erupted on March 15, 2011 escalated into a fully-fledged civil war.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to throw his military might behind the government changed the course of the conflict and saved Assad’s hold on power.
The main killers in a war that has left half a million people dead is by some margin the government and its allies, who include Russian and Iranian forces, as well as a myriad of militia groups.
Around four million people, at least half of them displaced, now live in a region of northwestern Syria that is the last enclave fighting Assad’s rule despite years of deadly Russian-backed offensives.
A few Ukrainian flags were visible at the Idlib protest, as were banners expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian people and demanding action against Putin.
A medic among the protesters at the city’s main roundabout had some advice for his counterparts in Ukraine.
“Fortify your hospitals with cement blocks, the enemy Putin does not distinguish between civilians, wounded people and fighters,” said Ali Hamoush, who works at an Idlib hospital.
Russian aviation has repeatedly targeted medical facilities in Syria, according to witnesses, medics and human rights groups.
A paediatric hospital was hit by an apparent Russian strike in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol last week, causing uproar and fueling accusations of war crimes against Putin.
Assad is among the few heads of state to openly support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow is currently recruiting thousands of fighters in Syria, from the regular army and from militia groups, to be put on standby for possible deployment in Ukraine.
The stiff resistance faced by invading Russian troops and Putin’s growing pariah status appeared to galvanize a crowd that has had little reason to cheer in recent years.
“It has been 11 years since the Syrian revolution started, but today it feels like the first day,” said protester Salwa Abdelrahman.
“We forgot our wounds, the displacement, the killing and the arrests. We renewed our pledge to continue our revolution,” the 49-year-old woman said.
“My message to the Ukrainian people is don’t give up. Eleven years have passed but we are undaunted and, God willing, victory is ours.”