UN: More than 235,000 have fled Idlib amid regime and Russian attacks

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - More than 235,000 people have fled the Idlib region over the past two weeks, the UN said Friday, amid heightened regime and Russian attacks on Syria's last major opposition bastion.

The mass displacement between 12 and 25 December within Idlib has left the violence-plagued Maaret Al Numan region "almost empty". the UN said in a statement.

Since mid-December, Russian-backed regime forces have pressed with an assault on jihadists in southern Idlib, despite an August ceasefire deal and calls for a de-escalation from Turkey, France and the United Nations.

The increased air strikes came as Russian-backed regime forces advance on the ground.

They have since December 19 seized dozens of towns and villages from the militants amid clashes that have killed hundreds on both sides.

A drone picture taken on December 23 shows empty streets and damaged buildings in the town of Maaret Al Numan in the northwestern Idlib province. AFP

The bombardment and clashes have amplified displacement from Maaret Al Numan and the nearby town Saraqeb in the southern Idlib region, the UN said.

"People from Saraqab and its eastern countryside are now fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next," a statement said.

Idlib is dominated by the country's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, whose chief this week urged militants and allied rebels to head to the frontlines and battle "the Russian occupiers" and the regime.

On Thursday, US President Donald warned Russia, Syria and Iran against killing civilians in Syria's Idlib province and said Turkey was working hard to stop the "carnage."

"Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands if inocent (sic) civilians in Idlib Province. Dont do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage," Mr Trump said in a tweet.

Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Tuesday that Russia will work to stop attacks in Idlib after talks with a Turkish delegation in Moscow.

Mr Trump has sought a close relationship with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, even after Ankara's recent incursion against American Kurdish allies in Syria and Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Updated: December 27, 2019 03:08 PM

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