About 350,000 Syrians, mostly women, and children have been displaced since early December due to intensified Russian-backed Syrian regime military offensive on Idlib province, the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday.
The “escalating” hostilities have deteriorated the humanitarian situation, causing the displaced to seek shelter near the border areas with Turkey, the OCHA reported in its latest situation report.
“This latest wave of displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Idlib,” Reuters cited David Swanson, UN regional spokesman for Syria, as saying.
Russia-backed Syrian forces of President Bashar al-Assad, which have been on the offensive since April 2019, have stepped up their actions in the region in December.
Idlib, the last major opposition-held enclave in northwest Syria, has been under fire sporadically for a few weeks by a coalition of forces, consisting of Russian jets, Syrian artillery, and pro-Iranian militias, which aims at clearing the Turkey-backed rebels.
Last week, Ankara and Moscow had announced a ceasefire to be formally effective on Sunday in the province.
However, Russian and Syrian airstrikes resumed on Tuesday, targeting civilian areas in the province.
The city of Maarat al-Numan was pounded by Russian and Syrian jets on Thursday, rescuers and residents reported.
At least 21 civilians were killed in heavy airstrikes on Wednesday, most of whom were in a busy market place.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Karen AbuZayd, a UN war crimes investigator on Syria, said many Syrians fleeing the violence were seeking shelters in destroyed or closed schools in the region.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said they were talking with Russia have about setting up a secure zone in the region to shelter the displaced Syrians during the winter period.
Meanwhile, Russia argues that people could escape the attacks on rebel-held areas by crossing into territory under al-Assad control.
Having fled the earlier attacks, as many as 400,000 Syrians have already been in the makeshift camps near the Turkish border, running short of food and water, according to Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was determined to make the ceasefire continue as they do not want the 400,000 displaced people crossing the Turkish border.
In a first officially-confirmed senior-level meeting on Monday, the heads of Turkish and Syrian intelligence services, Hakan Fidan and Ali Mamlouk, came together in Moscow to discuss the ceasefire in Idlib.
Previously, many Idlib-related ceasefire attempts had remained inconclusive.
In 2018, Turkey signed a de-escalation deal, the 2018 Sochi agreement, with Russia and Iran.
Under the deal, Ankara is responsible for the removal of the jihadist militants and heavy arms from the agreed territory, a task which is deemed by Russia, Iran, and Syria not to have been fulfilled.
The trio argues that they are fighting extremists who have been backed by Turkey, denying the claims of indiscriminate bombardment on civilians.