Overcome by fear, their eyes heavy with tears, these terrified children illustrate the appalling human cost of the Syrian civil war.
The three tiny victims were saved from their bombed-out home following an airstrike in the city of Idlib.
Footage from the White Helmets voluntary rescue unit showed the children – their faces whitened by dust – as they were pulled to safety.
The shelling is an escalation of hostilities in Syria that have sparked the biggest exodus of people since the civil war began nine years ago.
Brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Russian warplanes, is making his final push to clear rebels from Idlib – the last insurgent bastion – so he can declare victory.
This has seen nearly 700,000 civilians – mostly women and children – flee towards the sealed Turkish border in the past ten weeks.
But as bombing intensified and roads leaving the north-west city became even more congested, aid agencies warned that families had ‘nowhere to go’.
‘This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people in a single period since the Syrian crisis began,’ Jens Laerke, spokesman for a United Nations’ humanitarian agency said.
Britain once supported rebels fighting to overthrow Assad but by 2017 – two years after Russia joined the conflict to swing the war in favour of Assad – ministers admitted he was there to stay. One UK diplomat said Syria was one of Britain’s ‘most disastrous’ foreign policy blunders in decades.
Last night a member of the Syrian opposition and a humanitarian worker inside the city, who called himself Ismail, said civilians were facing ‘tragedy, destruction and murder’. Speaking from an internet cafe west of Idlib city, he told the Daily Mail: ‘We live in a state of terror where the future is death or displacement. Many have died, many were injured, displaced, put in prison. All this, just for the Lion’s [Assad’s] survival.
‘I work with humanitarian organisations and I see with my own eyes all the massacres. Now, as we speak, the air beats and the sounds are very loud. [Assad] wants to kill all his opponents.’ The father-of-three added: ‘While they are a heavily armed army, we are an unarmed people. All infrastructure has been targeted. There are terrible crimes committed every day against children, women and civilians.’
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the harsh winter weather was making suffering worse and that shelter was hard to find.
‘Even finding a place in an unfinished building is becoming nearly impossible,’ he said, adding that mosques were full.
The SNP’s Ian Blackford said displaced women and children were ‘literally freezing to death’. He said there were reports of babies dying from the cold and that 45,000 people were stranded ‘with nowhere to go’.
Boris Johnson told MPs: ‘This country and this Government has persistently called for the end of the Assad regime and has led the world in denouncing the cruelty of the Assad regime.’
The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of fighters and civilians. As many as 3.6million civilians are now crammed up against the closed Turkish border in an area the size of Somerset.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.