June 25, 2021

"Our hearts are broken"

The Syrian regime and Russia have significantly intensified attacks on towns and villages in northwest Syria

Over the past three weeks, the year-long fragile ceasefire in northwest Syria has crumbled. The Syrian regime and Russia have significantly intensified attacks on towns and villages in the area, with more destructive weapons than I have ever witnessed before. I am Samer Nassar, the chief of the White Helmets rescue center in Qastoun village south of Idlib, which is located close to the front lines where we all fear the regime is now advancing.

Every time missiles are fired on civilians, our volunteers rush to save every life we can. This month we transported 122 injured people to hospitals, but we were unable to save 47 people who were killed in the attacks, including five children. Our hearts are broken that we couldn’t save our dear colleague Dahham al-Hussein. He was murdered when Syrian regime forces deliberately targeted our center in Qastoun early on Saturday morning with three highly explosive missiles. The center is now completely destroyed, so is the equipment we use to dig life from under the rubble.

Dahham is the 290th White Helmets volunteer to have died on duty, leaving behind his wife and four children. He was 35 and so kind and so very committed to his work. His brother Ahmad, also a volunteer, was injured too along with four other White Helmets. This attack on our team, as well as attacks this month on a school and a hospital, are gross violations of international law – but ten years into the conflict we are seeing the regime and Russia operate without fear of accountability.

We will carry on Dahham’s legacy through our work, but we appeal forcefully to the international community to start holding Russia and the Syrian regime to account for targeting humanitarian workers, and to help reinstate the ceasefire and stop the attacks.

Four million people live in northwest Syria, the majority of them displaced multiple times by years of aerial attacks. The ceasefire gave civilians much-needed respite from suffering, but now the escalations are triggering a fresh catastrophe. Already, 5000 people have fled their homes and I am terrified for them as there is simply nowhere for them to go.

To add to our burden, Russia is threatening to block the last humanitarian lifeline – cross-border UN aid delivery into northwest Syria through Turkey – at a UN Security Council vote in a matter of days. Millions of people only survive because of food and medicine delivered through this corridor, which has also allowed for UN-supported Covid-19 vaccinations. For a decade Assad has systematically used humanitarian aid as a weapon of war. We need every member state of the UN Security Council to pressure Russia and make sure UN aid delivery keeps moving into Syria before an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

Thank you for your continued support for the White Helmets. Our work is deeply personal and we are all shaken by the loss of Dahham and the recent escalation. Knowing we have supporters like you around the world is a powerful boost during these tough times.

Thank you,

Samer Nassar, The White Helmets