Idlib under fire

The largest part of the work is being conducted in Idlib. The last area of Syria not controlled by the Assad regime has been under constant aerial bombardment for weeks now by regime and Russian forces. Evidently, the goal is total submission, forcing anyone standing against the Assad regime to surrender and denounce their opposition.

"The crisis in Syria has significantly escalated over the past few months. According to the UN, 4.5 million people are under attack in Idlib. This is the biggest humanitarian crisis in modern history." Muzna clarifies. Nearly all medical facilities in Idlib are already destroyed; those that still operate are completely overwhelmed. At the moment, no end to this intense military campaign is in sight.

According to Muzna, "all of Syria is important to us, but Idlib is receiving the most attention because it is under intense bombardment and there are four million civilians trapped there. But we also operate in the countryside of Hama, Latakia, Aleppo, Afrin and Manbij. So it is not only about Idlib, but the demand is very high for search and rescue missions due to the bombardment."

It is therefore essential to put pressure on the Russian government and its allies to stop all attacks immediately. The millions of civilians in Idlib cannot all be completely wiped out – but they cannot flee either, as Turkey does not allow them to cross the border. They are literally trapped, fearing for their lives because of the next bomb attack or a fatal disease.

Sticks and stones

The battle rages on, not only on the ground, but also online. The immense media exposure of the White Helmets came with an ugly price tag. A massive smear campaign against their work has been raging for years.

"Killing the Truth", a concise and insightful report by The Syria Campaign, gives an impressive account into this disinformation effort. It involves Russian state-backed propaganda, an army of trolls, and Assad apologists doubling as bloggers. They perpetuate the two-fold accusation that the White Helmets are connected to al-Qaida, and stage their attacks in order to smear the Assad regime and the Russian army. Even though those accusations are completely absurd, the campaign has contributed to a feeling that many outside of Syria share: "We cannot know what is true anymore."

Such statements are a shocking and sad outcome of the propaganda machine, because they ignore the suffering of civilians in Syria. Alongside the physical attacks, disinformation campaigns actually cost human lives on the ground. They hinder valuable humanitarian work by blocking funds or forcing organisations like the White Helmets to constantly defend themselves, instead of carrying out their work.
The battle for truth rages on, as the report from The Syria Campaign further testifies: "This negative coverage threatens to have a significant impact on the work of the White Helmets and their ability to save lives and expose ongoing war crimes. False accusations reverberate beyond Twitter threads threatening to legitimise attacks on the ground in Syria."
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