More than 235,000 civilians flee Russia-attacked Idlib in two weeks: UN

An intensified Russian-backed Syrian regime assault has more than 235,000 people fleeing Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, the United Nations (UN) reported on Thursday.

Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in northwest Syria, has been under fire sporadically since April.

The Russian-Syrian forces have again stepped up their offensive on the region, triggering renewed hostilities and hence the civilian displacement.

Including those already-displaced people, tens of thousands of civilians have also been making their way toward refugee camps and city centers in northern areas, Idlib and neighboring Aleppo, almost emptying the city of Maarat al-Numan and the nearby region, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

However, the fear of being target while on the move and the lack of fuel have reportedly hampered the exodus.

“Many who fled are in urgent need of humanitarian support, particularly shelter, food, health, non-food, and winterization assistance,” the OCHA said.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Russia, Syria, and Iran, the trio which has been waging the military offensive to retake Idlib, to halt their attacks on civilians.

“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province. Don’t do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage,” the US president tweeted.

The trio, however, denies claims of indiscriminate bombardment on civilians and argues that they are fighting extremists who have been backed by Turkey.

They accuse Ankara of not fulfilling its part of the 2018 Sochi agreement, a de-escalation deal between Turkey, Russia, and Iran, and failing to remove the jihadist militants from the agreed territory.

A Turkish delegation held inconclusive talks on Monday with the Russians in Moscow in a bid to reach a new ceasefire agreement on Idlib.

“We are closely following the process for an end to the attacks, and these attacks should come to an end immediately and implement under a new ceasefire. This is our main expectation from the Russian side,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Tuesday following the talks.

In response, Russia, on Thursday, emphasized again their expectation for Turkey to implement terms of the 2018 Sochi memorandum.

Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Turkey and Russia have been backing opposing parties to the conflict, with Moscow and Tehran supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Ankara is backing the rebel groups, notably the former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

With the Russian military campaign in support of his forces, al-Assad has turned the tide of the eight-year civil war in his favor, aiming to wrest back control of Syria from the rebels.

The clashes around Idlib since April have caused more than 1,000 civilian casualties in northwestern Syria, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in September.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was once strongly supported the ousting of al-Assad but later shifted his priority to refugee-related concerns, said on Sunday that Turkey could not handle a new influx of refugees as more than 80,000 Idlib people reportedly began migrating toward Turkey.

Erdogan also threatened the European Union (EU) member states with the impact of such a migrant wave unless they try to stop the violence in Syria.

However, Turkey’s strongman has not received any backing from the Western world regarding his calls for support and plans for setting up the zone but condemnation over his unilateral decisions on the region, such as a Turkish incursion into the region against the Western-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in October.

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