The town of Binnish lies in Idlib province and quickly became associated with the uprising and insurgency in the northwest of Syria.
What is the present situation in the town? To learn more, I interviewed a resident of Binnish who used to be a media activist. We also discussed his own view of the long term outlook for the northwest of Syria.
This interview was conducted on 20 August 2019. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the town of Binnish generally? The number of inhabitants and IDPs currently, and the general situation in the town.
A: The number of original inhabitants was previously around 40,000. After displacement, around 20,000-25,000 have remained. And regarding the number of IDPs currently, I cannot give you an estimate because you know of the movement of displaced people that has occurred some days ago. By God as your trustee, not one house- even ruined- has remained without being inhabited. Even two days ago, the local council set up a camp on the peripheries for IDPs.
The situation generally right now: we can say it is acceptable regarding normal and civilian life.
Q: Is there water available in the homes?
A: It is made available through water trucks [tankers].
Q: And all the electricity comes from generators?
A: Yes of course, from generators for more than 3 years.
Q: What are the main problems regarding services and the humanitarian situation?
A: Regarding services in Binnish, the aid organizations that undertake services are very few or perhaps there are none. Therefore there will be shortcoming in services and the simplest example is that of moving garbage or fixing landfills.
There is a deterioration in the humanitarian situation especially in light of the decrease of the value of the Syrian pound and rise of the value of the dollar and the resultant rise of prices.
Q: So there is much shortcoming in moving garbage.
A: No, not much. Perhaps once a week it is moved and sometimes [once every] two weeks, and the reason is that there is no capability of operating vehicles to move garbage.
Q: Currently many of the youth of Binnish are fighting on the fighting fronts in south Idlib?
A: Yes, there are many. Those I know of my companions to be wounded and those who are going out: more than 50 people have enlisted. Of course there are also battalions and groups participating in south Idlib that are from Binnish.
Q: Most of these battalions from Binnish are with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham?
A: No. There are commandos affiliated with Ahrar al-Sham and battalions affiliated with Faylaq al-Sham.
Q: Currently how do you assess the fighting on the fronts in south Idlib? It seems that the factions have lost many fighters.
Q: And they are withdrawing from the areas.
A: Exactly, they have lost many fighters and much equipment. Their withdrawal is because of a scorched earth policy.
Q: Meaning a scorched earth policy by the Russians?
Q: From Binnish for example how many fighters have died during the recent fighting?
A: Around 35 people have been killed in the recent battles.
Q: Do you expect that Khan Sheikhoun will fall and with it all of north Hama countryside?
A: No. Regarding Khan Sheikhoun if it is going to fall, [it will fall] after the fall of the areas surrounding it from the north: i.e. after cutting off the reinforcement path and that is the Aleppo path. But the regime is not in the business of entering into street battles and fighting. As for the fall of the north countryside: if the Russians and Turks and other parties agree to a handover, all areas will fall. And this is what is happening now. The simplest example of this is as follows: why don't the Russian and Syrian forces bomb the Turks' points if in their view the Turks are the ones supporting the factions fighting on the fronts? Note that there is a point for the Turks in the town of Morek and it is around 15km to the south of Khan Sheikhoun.
Q: Yes, true. What are your expectations regarding the Idlib area in general for the long term?
A: We will be like the Gaza Strip in Palestine. That is, an area of experiments of international agreements and experiments for weapons and constant conflicts.
Q: Not a good future by God.
A: God knows best. A future that is not good. But this has become the case in more than one state from Palestine to Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon etc.
Q: Yes true. What is the opinion of the civilians about the factions?
A: Pleasing the people is an unattainable goal. Among them are those who are very afraid and will tell you that they have sold out [the cause/revolution] and all of them are [embodying] agendas. And there are people who will say to you: God give them victory. And there are people [who say]: God rid us of the two sides. To God is the matter.
Q: So the opinions differ from one person to the next.
A: Of course.