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Stop biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century in Idlib: UN

The “biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century” has reached a “horrifying level”, displacing 900,000 people in northwest Syria since December 1, the United Nations (UN) said on Monday.

The only way to avoid the humanitarian crisis is a ceasefire for which “Security Council members and those with influence have to overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first,” Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement.

The figure was 100,000 more than the one recorded previously by the UN.

In the past four days alone, more than 40,000 have been uprooted from western Aleppo province, the most populated of the country, where dozens of towns have fallen under full control of the Syrian regime, David Swanson, a U.N. spokesman, said on Monday.

“The vast majority [is] women and children. They are traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full. Mothers burn plastic to keep children warm. Babies and small children are dying because of the cold,” said the UN coordinator.

According to the UN, the violence is indiscriminate, targeting not only health facilities, schools, residential areas, mosques, and markets, but also settlements for displaced people. 

The continuing attacks have destroyed basic infrastructures, causing a serious risk of disease outbreaks, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) added.

“A huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey, is underway, but it is overwhelmed. The equipment and facilities being used by aid workers are being damaged. Humanitarian workers themselves are being displaced and killed,” the OCHA statement read.

The Russia-Iran-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime forces have been on the offensive in the rebel-held Idlib region since April 2019, stepping up their attacks in December.

The UN call for the ceasefire came amidst a new round of talks in Moscow on Monday between Turkey and Russia, the two countries backing opposing factions in the conflict.

The agreements and many subsequent ceasefire attempts between the two have remained inconclusive in Idlib, as both accuse each other of not fulfilling their tasks defined under a 2018 de-escalation agreement in Astana.

Set up under the Astana accord, Ankara maintains twelve military outposts through which it is obliged to neutralize rebel militants there.

Instead, Turkey has backed opposition fighters trying to stop the Syrian offensive that aims to regain control of the region.

Some of the Turkish outposts have been surrounded by the al-Assad forces, which have killed 13 Turkish troops over the past three weeks.

Ankara has carried on with a military buildup in the Idlib region, sending more than 2100 military vehicles and 7000 troops into the de-escalation zone in the past two weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a war monitor.

Previously, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they were determined to drive back the Syrian forces from the posts in Idlib by the end of the month, giving an ultimatum to the regime to withdraw from there.

However, the Turkish president appeared to move the date forward on Saturday, saying Turkey would “handle it” before the end of the month if there was no pullback.

In a televised appearance by state media on Monday, al-Assad said the recent gains by the regime forces in the region were indications for the eventual defeat of the nine-year insurgency seeking his ousting.

“We know this liberation does not mean the end of the war or the crushing of all plots or the end of terror or the surrender of the enemy but it definitely rubs their noses in the dirt. This is a prelude to their [rebels’] final defeat, sooner or later,” al-Assad said.

Turkish-backed militants shoot down second Syrian helicopter in Idlib

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