On October 2, the governor of Idlib, Thaer Salhab, told the semi-official Al-Watan newspaper that 70,0000 people now live in government-controlled parts of Idlib governorate.
For reasons still unclear, Mr Salhab connected this significant number to the recent return of dozens of displaced people from temporary shelters in the city of Hama to the cities of Khan Sheikhoun and Maarat Al-Numan.
In 2015, 11 temporary shelters for people displaced from Idlib to areas under government control were opened in Hama province. Of these centers, five are in Hama city, the most significant being the Naseh Alwani, Mohammed Ali Breidi, and Veterinary high schools, which house together only about 100 people, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area. These are the only centres that have been emptied out so far. Meanwhile, the remaining centres in rural Hama are populated by IDPs whose hometowns in Idlib governorate are still under opposition control.
The Syria Report’s correspondent clarified that ten families (around 50 people) were moved from the shelters in Hama to Maaarat Al-Numan, and a similar number to Khan Sheikhoun. These people are relatives of regime forces members and government employees from those two cities. They were sent to reside in houses owned by forcibly displaced people from the area, which the Syrian Red Crescent had previously rehabilitated. This means that the homes given to these resettled displaced people do not belong to them. The mechanism for distributing the homes and the legal framework it relies on in the process of resettling the displaced are not clear.
On the other hand, the figure of 70,000 residents currently living in the regime-controlled areas in Idlib seems exaggerated. Khan Sheikhoun, the regime’s temporary administrative centre in Idlib governorate, is the most populous city in regime-controlled Idlib, at just 7,000 residents. Currently, Maarat Al-Numan is home to no more than 50 families (250 people), and the city is still largely destroyed, with basic services such as sewage networks and electricity not yet restored. There is currently only one primary school in the city, while middle and high school students have to travel daily to Khan Sheikhoun, 25 kilometres away. Even the majority of teachers and staff at the Zaatari Elementary Education School in Maarat Al-Numan live in Hama city and commute daily at their own expense.
The security situation in Maarat Al-Numan remains unstable, and movement is restricted after dark. Only regime forces can freely move around, particularly in the northern and western parts of the city, where military headquarters for the Russian-backed 25th Special Mission Division, the 11th Division, the Republican Guard and ammunition depots are located.
On August 15, a resident who had only returned to the city six months prior was allegedly killed by members of the 25th Division due to his protest against the lack of bread and water supplies in the city. The deceased’s body was handed over to his family, and the forensic report indicated that the cause of death was listed as “myocardial infarction.”
On the other hand, the General Secretariat of Idlib Governorate is working to secure some of the main services in the city of Khan Sheikhoun, focusing on paving and rehabilitating roads along with the rest of the villages and towns in rural Idlib under regime control. Meanwhile, the areas under regime control in Idlib lack hospitals where patients with chronic and non-acute conditions can receive medical services. These patients are forced to seek treatment in the cities of Hama and Aleppo, while cancer patients are treated in Damascus.