By LAYAL ABOU RAHAL and AREF WATAD
Tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing bombardment in Syria’s Idlib region, the UN said, as fighting flares in the jihadist bastion, fueling an already dire humanitarian situation.
The Idlib region, which is home to some three million people including many displaced by Syria’s civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of it.
There has been an uptick in violence in Idlib since Monday and, despite UN calls for a de-escalation, major clashes between Syrian regime forces and armed groups has flared in the past 24 hours, killing more than 80 people on both sides, a war monitor said Friday.
The fighting raged around the jihadist-held town of Maaret al-Numan in southern Idlib, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It came as warplanes from Syrian regime ally Russia pounded areas around Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Saraqeb with a series of air strikes, it added.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said tens of thousands of civilians have fled southern Idlib since Monday and headed north for safety, while thousands more were waiting for the violence to abate to leave.
“Following the intensification of air strikes and shelling since 16 December in southern Idlib, tens of thousands of civilians are reportedly fleeing from Maaret al-Numan area in southern Idlib governorate to [the] north,” the UN said.
The UN agency said a shortage of fuel for private vehicles is limiting the movement of civilians while roads leading out of the town are “extremely dangerous” as they are reportedly being hit by air strikes.
“Since the evening of 19 December, residents of Maaret al-Numan town… began to communicate to the humanitarian community that they wanted to move to safety, but were unable to move due to the heavy aerial bombardment,” the UN agency said.
“The numbers of families who already fled in the past 72 hours are estimated to have reached tens of thousands and there are thousands of others who are potentially waiting for the air strikes and bombardment to ease to allow them safety to move,” it added.
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