UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — More than half a million people, according to the United Nations, have been displaced by the military escalation of regime forces and their ally Russia in northwestern Syria, in one of the largest waves of displacement since the start of the conflict, which is nearing the completion of its ninth year.
Since December, regime forces, with Russian support, have stepped up their campaign against and around areas in Idlib, housing more than three million people, half of whom are displaced, and controlled by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly Nusra) and its allies, and spread less influential opposition factions.
“Since December 1, about 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes, eighty percent of whom are women and children,” David Swanson, a regional spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP.
He explained that “the almost daily violence for long periods of time has led to the unjustified suffering of hundreds of thousands of people who live in the region.”
In recent days, AFP correspondents have witnessed convoys of the displaced as they leave cities and towns that are bombed or battles are taking place in its vicinity towards safer areas not covered by the bombing.
In the village of Hazano, north of Idlib, an AFP correspondent on Tuesday saw dozens of cars and minivans carrying displaced people with their belongings, including household utensils, water tanks, electrical appliances, mattresses, winter blankets, and even agricultural crops and wood.
Muhammad Bahjat Al-Abdeh (34 years) tells Agence France Presse how he has had to flee with his family for several times during the last week, to escape the raids and the concentrated battles, especially in the vicinity of Saraqib, the city that the regime forces want to control as it constitutes the meeting point between two strategic international roads linking the governorates several.
“Until now, we do not know where we are going,” said Mohammed, while heading towards the Turkish border. “You do not know when a missile or missile will come to you. God is the helper.” From behind the wheel of a truck carrying his wife and three children with his parents and two sisters, he added, “We all got out from under the bombing, there is absolutely no safety there, and the services are zero water and electricity.”
Towards safe areas
According to the United Nations, the displaced people went to areas not covered by the bombing, especially the cities or camps for the displaced near the border in northwest Idlib, while tens of thousands moved to the areas of Afrin and Azaz in the north of the neighboring province of Aleppo, which are controlled by Syrian factions loyal to Ankara.
The latest wave of displacement is among the largest since the conflict erupted in 2011. According to Swanson, “the mainly poor humanitarian situation on the ground has worsened since the displacement of more than 400,000 people from the end of April to the end of August, many of whom have been displaced several times” as a result of a campaign A similar military to Damascus with the support of Moscow in that period.
Since the jihadi and warring factions took control of the entire province in 2015, regime forces have escalated their bombardment of the province with Russian support or launched ground attacks that are making progress and usually ending with truce agreements sponsored by Russia and Turkey, the most recent of which was announced on January 9, but did not Only stand up to days.
Last week, the forces of the regime managed to control the city of Maarat al-Numan, the second largest city of Idlib, after tens of thousands of its residents were displaced in stages. Violent battles are currently taking place near the city of Saraqib, which has also emptied its residents.
Regime forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, are fighting violent battles against the warring factions in the area of Saraqib and in the southern and western countryside of Aleppo. It coincided with heavy Russian and Syrian raids on Saraqeb and villages in the Idlib city, which caused a massive displacement of civilians.
– Turkish-Russian escalation –
And the regime forces became eight kilometers southeast of Idlib, after the two had made progress west of Saraqib, which is the meeting point between an international road, known as “Umm Fife” and connects the governorate of Aleppo to Damascus, and a second strategic road known as “Um Four”, connecting my province Aleppo and Idlib in Lattakia to the west. Damascus wants to regain control of parts of the two roads outside its control.
On Sunday night, the Saraqib area witnessed an unprecedented escalation between the Syrian and Turkish forces, which have introduced major military reinforcements in recent days to northwestern Syria.
On Monday, Ankara announced the killing of six of its soldiers, in addition to three Turkish civilians working for it, as a result of artillery bombardment by the Syrian regime forces. Ankara responded quickly by targeting Syrian army positions in and around Idlib.
Damascus has not announced any losses among its forces, while the observatory has reported the killing of 13 members of the regime forces. This escalation is the “most dangerous confrontation” between the two sides since the start of direct Turkish intervention in Syria since 2016, according to the observatory.
Idlib is subject to several truce agreements between Moscow in support of Damascus and Ankara in support of the opposition factions, reached in stages in the Astana talks and then in Sochi.
The escalation since early December has killed about 300 civilians, while at least 53 medical facilities closed their doors last month, according to the World Health Organization.
As the conflict nears the completion of its ninth year, the regime forces have taken control of more than seventy percent of the area of Syria, and their forces have been deployed in the areas of Kurdish guerrilla control in the northeast of the country.
Following its recent progress in and around Idlib, it is close to controlling about half of the Idlib Governorate area, the most prominent area that is still with parts of the neighboring provinces of Aleppo and Latakia outside its control.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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