UN 'alarmed' as over 500,000 displaced by Syria attacks
The United Nations said on Tuesday that more than half-a-million people had been displaced from Idlib province in the past two months, following a ferocious Russian and regime assault which had brought regime forces within a few kilometres of Idlib city.
The UN also expressed "alarm" over deadly clashes between Turkish and Syrian regime troops in Idlib province in northwest Syria and called for immediate de-escalation and the resumption of negotiations.
"Since 1 December, some 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority - 80 percent - of them women and children," David Swanson, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said.
The wave of displacement, which coincides with a biting winter, is one of the largest since the start of the Syrian conflict nearly nine years ago.
"This latest displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground, when over 400,000 people were displaced from the end of April through the end of August, many of them multiple times," Swanson said.
He said the UN was alarmed by the plight of more than three million people - half of whom had been displaced from their homes - who live in Idlib province and surrounding areas.
Regime troops and militia backed by Russian and other allied forces have in recent weeks pursued a ferocious assault on Idlib province and neighbouring areas of northwestern Syria, which constitute the last parts of Syria still held by anti-Assad rebels.
They have captured dozens of villages and some major towns - including the city of Maarat Al-Numan, which has been a centre of opposition to the regime since 2011- and are pushing northwards, sending displaced populations ever closer to the Turkish border, which remains closed.
Regime forces on Tuesday were eight kilometres away from Idlib city, according to reports.
Another UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric said that in recent days 47 residential areas had been targeted by airstrikes, while 25 residential areas had been bombed.
He also expressed concern over clashes between Turkish and Syrian regime troops.
"We're very much alarmed by the reports that we saw of clashes between Syrian government troops and Turkish forces in northwest Syria," he told reporters.
Five Turkish soldiers were killed by regime shellfire in Idlib on Monday, while Turkey said that it had "neutralised" 76 regime fighters after carrying out 54 airstrikes on regime positions.
"I think this escalation underscores yet again the threat to regional and international peace and security caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria," Dujarric added.
He said that the UN was in contact with Turkish, Russian, and Syrian regime officials in order to bring about a "de-escalation" and a reduction in the death toll from a ferocious regime and Russian assault on Idlib province.
The World Health Organisation said that it halted services to 53 medical facilities over the past month due to the security situation and threats of attack, adding that it only had enough medical supplies for two months.
Agencies contributed to this report.