02/14/2020, 13.00
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Idlib, UN: over 800 thousand civilians flee offensive against militants and jihadists

According to a senior United Nations official, most are women and children. The exodus is expected to continue with entire villages and communities on the move. Snow and intense cold complicate the situation, tires and waste burnt in search of heat. But toxic fumes are deadly.

Idlib (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Over 800 thousand Syrians, most of them women and children, have left their homes and lands since 1 December last, to escape the joint offensive on Idlib launched by the Syrian government, with the support of the Russian ally.

A high level United Nations official yesterday confirmed the dramatic situation on a humanitarian level as stressed in recent days to AsiaNews by the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, Card Mario Zenari.

The most critical situation is in the north-west, where the Syrian military launched a massive offensive in the Idlib region, the last stronghold in the hands of rebel groups (supported by Turkey) and jihadist movements. Local sources report that the exodus is expected to continue, with thousands of people on the move and entire villages and communities fleeing to the border.

David Swanson, UN representative for the Syrian crisis and the Office for Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha), underlines that "the number of internally displaced people, the vast majority of whom are women and children, has now exceeded 800 thousand". The inhabitants of the area "flee thousands on board of open trucks or on foot", often in the middle of the night "despite the freezing temperatures".

As denounced by Card Zenari, UN experts say that the region is on the verge of a catastrophe. Almost 400 thousand people sought refuge from Idlib in the province of Aleppo, the same ones who had previously abandoned refugee camps on the Turkish border.

Refugees fleeing sleep on the streets, looking for shelter; to try to stem the intense cold they burn piles of garbage and tires, giving rise to intense columns of black smoke. According to humanitarian agencies, the largest displacement of civilians is taking place in nine years of conflict, however there are no shelters or structures where they can stay to escape the cold temperatures and the snow that has fallen abundantly in the region in recent days.

Houses and tents are already crowded with people, who because of widespread poverty are not even able to buy fuel and stoves. Eyewitnesses report that at least 10 children have died in the past week; an entire family suffocated in their sleep because of the fumes given off by the clothes and shoes set on fire.

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