Since battles erupted in northern Hama province just over a week ago, opposition frontlines have steadily encroached into regime territory, with rebels now less than 10km from Hama city.
As the rebels advance, recently captured territory becomes a target for government and Russian warplanes, spurring mass evacuations of civilians.
Air strikes have focused on Taybat al-Imam, Souran, and Morek as well as surrounding areas, an unnamed military source told state-run news agency SANA on Thursday. He added that “more than 10 terrorists” were killed in the raids.
Abu Enad, a member of the Civil Defense working in the Hama countryside told Syria Direct of “a massacre that happened in Souran on Thursday after a convoy of displaced people from the village were targeted [by an air strike], resulting in 14 civilian deaths including 9 children as well as dozens injured.”
Syria News, a pro-regime outlet, confirmed the civilian deaths in a north Hama air strike though the number of casualties was specified.
According to the Hama Provincial Council of Statistics, the number of displaced families has reached 9,000 (approximately 45,000 people) in just the past few days from north Hama towns such as Halfiya, Taybat al-Imam, and Souran.
The burden of housing, feeding and providing medical care for the displaced falls heavily on the Hama Provincial Council and local humanitarian organizations who say they are struggling to provide these basic services.
The Hama Provincial Council, humanitarian relief organizations, and the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, are all involved in the emergency response.
“Through the efforts and assistance of the Civil Defense, families have been evacuated to the southern Idlib countryside as a first step,” Amer Nayef, president of the provincial council’s relief office, told the Syrian Voice.
Nayef added that the Hama Provincial Council’s relief office, in cooperation with local relief organizations, is working to ensure a sufficient bread supply, blankets, and emergency food baskets for newly displaced residents in the next few days.
Relief organizations and humanitarian groups have hurried to provide emergency food provisions and other supplies; however they have only been able to meet a small fraction of the need displayed by displaced civilians.
“We are sending out a distress call to all organizations working in liberated areas,” Amer Nayef told the Syrian Voice. “Displaced residents keep on coming… they are living without any stability.”
Organizations are in the process of tracking the number of displaced Syrians in order to prepare adequate assistance.
“We’re working to calculate the number of displaced persons in order to provide assistance,” Kassar al-Maqsous, a member of the a-Sham Humanitarian Foundation, told the Syrian Voice.
“We are waiting for them to give us emergency resources, especially as the bulk of the displaced left their homes with a few, basic personal belongings.”
Families were evacuated from Halfaya, Taybat al-Imam, and Souran with the assistance of Civil Defense teams after air raids targeting civilians intensified.
The Syrian Voice spoke with Abu Enad. “The Civil Defense force is evacuating hundreds of trapped families and they have been moved to safe areas in addition to the injured who have been ambulanced to nearby field hospitals.”
‘No way out’
There are still dozens of families trapped in Souran and Taybat al-Imam, according to a member of the Civil Defense who requested anonymity, where intense shelling has created difficulties for evacuation maneuvers.
Safwan a-Shareef, a displaced resident of Taybat al-Imam, described the situation to the Syria Voice. “My family and hundreds of families have been forced to flee the intense shelling under the cover of darkness.”
Despite the assistance of the Civil Defense, “some of the families are still in the city because there is no way out,” said a-Shareef.
A-Shareef moved with his family to Kafr Nabl, located in the southern Idlib countryside, where they are trying to make ends meet after losing their home and all their belongings. Aside from a ration of bread from the provincial council, they receive no humanitarian aid.
The Hama Provincial Council is scrambling to secure housing to accommodate already displaced people in camps. Housing for displaced persons who can return to their villages, such as the residents of the al-Ghab Plain, will be repurposed by the council in order to meet the demand of newly displaced Syrians.
Speaking with the Syrian Voice, Amer Nayef addressed the necessity of finding housing units in other areas. He opted not to mention the new areas out of fear they might be targeted by regime warplanes.
The growing number of displaced Syrians represents a major fear for provincial councils and relief organizations in the countryside of Hama. The opposition front looms just a few kilometers from Hama, the capitol city of the eponymous province with an estimated population of 700,000 residents.