70,000 Syrians Flee as Regime Forces Advance on Last Rebel-Held Province
Albanian Daily News
Published January 9, 2018
Civil defence team members tackle a fire in a building in Idlib following a regime airstrike this month. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Tens of thousands of people have fled a Syrian government assault on Idlib, the country's last rebel-held province, prompting warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The regime advance comes amid what a senior aid worker described as a "systematic" attack on hospitals in the region. Eight have been hit between the end of December and the beginning of January. One such attack in the town of Maarat al-Numan on 3 January killed a baby girl who was just two hours old and her father. Two nurses and a doctor were wounded.

"The major goals are to deprive people of healthcare, kill opposition medical workers and push people to flee," said Ahmad al-Dbis, safety and security director for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM), which runs dozens of hospitals in Syria. "The medical situation is a tragedy."

According to UN figures, more than 70,000 people have fled their homes and moved further into Idlib in recent weeks to escape the latest wave of violence to grip Syria, seven years into a civil war that has killed half a million people. There are already an estimated 1.1 million internally displaced people in the province who have fled from other parts of Syria, or were allowed safe passage there after rebel groups surrendered.

Many have sought refuge near the Turkish border as forces loyal to the regime of Bashar al-Assad launched a ground offensive for the first time in nearly three years into Idlib province, which is wholly controlled by rebels fighting to oust the Syrian strongman. A coalition of mostly Islamist rebels, including the then al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, ousted the regime from the province in the spring of 2015.

The government's push into Idlib appears to be aimed at taking control of Abu al-Dhuhour airbase, establishing a foothold in the province, but experts say it is unclear if it plans to venture further into the province in a broader ground campaign.

The regime assault has been coupled with an expanding wave of airstrikes that have killed or injured dozens of civilians in recent weeks. UOSSM said some of the hospitals had been targeted many times, putting several out of service.

Activists say whole villages near the frontline have been abandoned.

(Source: The Guardian)

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