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The New Arab

Idlib clashes threaten coronavirus outbreak in northern Syria

Idlib camps remain vulnerable to a Covid-19 outbreak [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 June, 2020

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Clashes and airstrikes have erupted in Idlib province, following a brief calm.

Recent fighting and airstrikes in Idlib province threaten the collapse of a three-month ceasefire deal and could plunge northern Syria into a new humanitarian crisis with the spread of coronavirus.

Russia resumed airstrikes on Monday for the first time since March, targeting several villages in southern Idlib province leading to the deaths of two civilians.

Heavy fighting has also raged in the area between Islamist groups and Syrian regime forces.

Airstrikes in southern Idlib have forced thousands of Syrians from their homes, causing new concerns among NGOs about the possible spread of Covid-19.

"After just three months, the ceasefire deal in Idlib has been breached, throwing people's lives into turmoil once again," said Misty Buswell, MENA Policy and Advocacy Director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

"Over the past 48 hours alone, airstrikes have reportedly killed three people and already, more than 5,000 have fled their homes. If these attacks continue, many more will be forced to follow them."

The IRC urged all sides to halt the fighting and allow medical workers to work on preventing the spread of the Covid-19 in Idlib, which remains vulnerable to an infection due to depleted healthcare resources and cramped conditions in camps.

"The disease will spread quickly when it reaches Idlib, and we are working hard to prepare for its arrival," Buswell said.

"It is imperative that humanitarian agencies are able to scale-up their responses - a renewed offensive would prevent that, so it is critical for parties to the conflict to adhere to the ceasefire."

The IRC has already voiced concerns about a potential under the radar outbreak of Covid-19 in northern Syria due to the low level of testing in the area.

Syria's refugee camps in Idlib remain overwhelmed after a regime offensive this year displaced around 1 million people, while healthcare facilities remain poor due targeting in airstrikes throughout the war.

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