Raging Idlib battle pushes thousands towards Turkish border

Thousands of Syrians have been forced to the Turkish border this weekend as fierce battles rage between forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels in north-western Syria, a United Nations (UN) spokesman said on Monday.

Nearly 500 civilians have been killed in the violence since April 28, with more than 440,000 people having been displaced, according to Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Our humanitarian colleagues remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians in northwest Syria, where some three million women, children, and men remain caught in the cross fire,” Haq told reporters in New York at the daily news briefing.

The succession of air strikes and shelling on densely populated urban areas controlled by armed rebel groups killed at least 35 people this weekend, including three health workers.

The shelling has extensively damaged residential areas and civilian infrastructure, including seven schools, a health clinic, a market, and a bakery. It also affected urban areas in government-controlled zones, Haq reported.

“The UN reminds all parties to the conflict, and those who have influence over them, of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and of the principles of distinction and proportionality enshrined in International Humanitarian Law,” said Haq.

Idlib is the last remaining bastion for anti-Assad rebels after eight years of the Syrian civil war.

Moscow supports the al-Assad regime, while Ankara has been backing the rebels.

Russia and Turkey signed the Sochi agreements on the Idlib de-escalation zone last year.

The agreement stated that “the cease-fire in the Idlib region will be preserved with the withdrawal of heavy arms and radicals from the region.

However, in recent months, the deal has faltered, leading to hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing the area following the Russian-backed Syrian military’s bombing.

Syrian forces have also targeted Turkish army outposts in the region.

Already hosting some 4 million refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians, Turkey fears a further spill-over in the event of an all-out assault on Idlib, among other concerns.

At least 440,000 people have been driven from their homes due to the violence, while around 500 civilians have been killed since April when the fighting broke out in the area.

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