More than 235,000 people have fled Idlib region in Syria, says UN
More than 235,000 people have fled from the Idlib region over the past two weeks, the UN has said, as attacks intensify on Syria’s final opposition stronghold.
The mass displacement between 12 and 25 December has left the Maarat al-Numan area in southern Idlib “almost empty”, the UN said in a statement on Friday.
Since mid-December, Russian-backed regime forces have pressed on with an assault against jihadists in southern Idlib, despite an August ceasefire deal and calls for de-escalation from Turkey, France and the UN.
Airstrikes have increased as Russian-backed regime forces have advanced on the ground.
Troops have seized dozens of towns and villages from the jihadists since 19 December, in clashes that have killed hundreds on both sides.
The bombardment and fighting on the ground have amplified displacement from Maarat al-Numan and the nearby town of Saraqeb in southern Idlib, the UN said.
“People from Saraqeb and its eastern countryside are now fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next,” it said.
Idlib is dominated by the country’s former al-Qaida affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, whose leader urged jihadists and allied rebels to head to the frontlines and fight the “Russian occupiers” and the regime.
About 3 million people live in the region, including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.
Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus, which controls 70% of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the area.
Backed by Moscow, the regime launched an offensive against Idlib in April, killing about 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.
Despite a ceasefire announced in August, the bombardment has continued, prompting Turkey to press for a fresh ceasefire agreement during talks in Moscow.
Earlier this week, France called for an “an immediate de-escalation”, warning of deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011 with anti-government demonstrations that were brutally repressed by security forces.