150,000 displaced in one week in northwest Syria, says UN - GulfToday

150,000 displaced in one week in northwest Syria, says UN


Men walk among the rubble of a building near the town of Saraqeb in Syria on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse

An escalation in attacks on northwest Syria has displaced more than 150,000 people in the past week, the UN said on Tuesday, as the regime and Russia stepped up bombardment.

“We are alarmed by ongoing reports of aerial attacks on population centres and civilian infrastructure, resulting in hundreds of civilians dead and injured,” said David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.

“More than 152,000 women, children and men have been displaced in Aleppo and Idlib governorates over the past week alone,” he told AFP.

The northwestern part of Syria controlled by militants is made up a large part of Idlib province, as well as adjacent parts of the Aleppo and Hama provinces.

The Idlib region has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

But the region of some three million people has come under increasing bombardment since the extremist Hayat Tahrir Al Sham group, a former Al Qaeda affiliate, took full control of it in January. The UN humanitarian agency on Tuesday expressed alarm at health facilities being hit in the bombardment.

“Between 29 April and 6 May, at least 12 health facilities were hit by airstrikes in northern Hama and Idlib governorates, damaging health infrastructure that provided essential health services to over 100,000 people,” OCHA said in a statement.

All 12 were out of service, Swanson said, while three health workers had been killed in the bombardment.

“Ongoing reports of attacks on health facilities in the region reflect a worrying trend, depriving thousands women, children and men of life-saving medical assistance,” he said.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began.

Government forces intensified their bombardment of rebel-held towns and villages in northwest Syria, killing at least eight people Tuesday, including five in an airstrike on a market, opposition activists said.

The new wave of violence that began on April 30 is the worst since September, when Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire that averted a government offensive on Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold.

Idlib province, that is home of 3 million people many of them displaced from other parts of Syria, is mostly controlled by Al Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, or HTS.

The latest wave of violence was triggered by attacks by HTS gunmen that killed dozens of troops.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, said warplanes bombed a market in the village of Ras el-Ain on Tuesday morning, killing five people, including three children, and wounding 20. White Helmets also said that three other people were killed in the villages of Maar Tamater and Bara.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, reported airstrikes and shelling on Idlib and northern rebel-held parts of Hama province. It said 13 civilians were killed on Tuesday alone.

Syrian state news agency SANA said troops were pounding insurgents’ positions “in retaliation for their violations of the truce.” An HTS military commander known as Abu Khaled Al Shami said in comments posted online that the looming battle “will be decisive and we will use all our capabilities that will surprise the enemy.” On Monday, Syrian troops captured the village of Al-Bani and the nearby Othman hill in the northern countryside of Hama province.

The Syrian army has made a small advance into the rebels’ last major stronghold in Syria, a pro-government newspaper and a war monitor reported on Tuesday, after massive bombardments that began late last month.

Al-Watan daily said the army had captured the villages of al-Janabara and Tel Othman, where rebels said on Monday they had repulsed government assaults. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops had seized Tel Othman.

Northwest Syria is the only significant territory still in rebel hands. The area being targeted in the latest bombardment was the subject of a Russian-Turkish agreement last September to hold off a government offensive.