The Syrian war has largely been a war of sieges and blockades of which Idlib is the last. Assad has not yet entirely won the war, but the opposition have certainly lost it.
“People in Idlib hate all those with power over them,” says Ahmad Abu Omar, 33, a history teacher living the province, the last opposition enclave in the west of Syria.
He says that the three million people of Idlib fear a return of government forces, but are almost equally hostile to the armed opposition groups now ruling Idlib because they have spread violence and chaos. He sees Turkey and Russia, who this week started implementing their ceasefire agreement to prevent a government offensive into the province, as acting solely in their own interests.
“We are tired of war and of the militant groups that use the name of Islam to control us,” he says. “They are just stealing money and strangling the people by what they do.” Abu Ahmad Bakour, 47, who tries to eke out a living as a day labourer in Idlib, says
Hostility towards the government in Damascus is still intense, but so is antipathy towards its opponents. “At the beginning you could see the youth rushing to fight against government forces,” says Abu Omar. “But now nobody cares about fighting and religious belief can no longer motivate people to fight for those in control here the armed opposition.”
People in Idlib are not starving, but they are very poor, particularly in the cities and towns where there is little work. In Idlib city, there are many, like Mr Bakour, who sit in the squares and roundabouts hoping to be hired as day labourers, which will earn them the equivalent of about $2 for a day's work. Others wait beside the road selling fuel, much of which comes from the Kurdish-held oilfields in eastern Syria. Nobody is building anything so there are no construction jobs, but some skilled workers and professionals, such as doctors, nurses, electricians and car repairmen, earn good money providing essential services. The best jobs are with aid organisations that pay between $200 and $700 a month in dollars. All sides have found it profitable to allow trade with their worst enemies.
People in Idlib distrust all sides and with good reason, but, as Abu Omar says, they “are happy with any solution that stops them again becoming the victims of displacement, destruction and war”.