At least 215,000 civilians flee Idlib since November

With diplomacy on an eventual peace accord in Syria stagnating, the deal to “de-escalate” conflict in Idlib signed by Turkey, Russia and Iran in September has been unraveling of late.

Intense attacks by Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Russia and Iran backed-groups over the past two weeks have forced thousands of civilians to flee from Idlib, which had been designated as a de-escalation zone. At least 35 residential areas have reportedly been captured in the past four days.

According to the Syrian Response Coordination Group, at least 215,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of November in Idlib, with more than 10,000 believe to have fled to the Turkey-Syria border in the last three days alone. The group also charges that the offensive has targeted hospitals, schools, mosques and houses to deliberately force civilians out of the cities and keep them away from their homes.

Hundreds of civilians fled the cities of Maarat al-Numan and Saraqib, as well as other rural towns in the rebel-held Idlib province yesterday (December 24) as the Syrian army intensified its offensive against a significant rebel pocket of resistance in the province this week. Insurgents controlling the Idlib region bordering Turkey include the powerful Islamist militant group Tahrir al-Sham, as well as Turkish-backed rebel factions.

Maarat al-Numan had previously served as a refuge for families who fled other areas of Syria recaptured by Damascus earlier during in the civil war. This week, however, cars and trucks loaded with personal belongings steamed north to the Syria-Turkey border crossing of Bab al-Hawa, in efforts to escape the Russian-led aerial bombing campaign.

Over a million Syrians are estimated to have moved near the Turkish border following intense attacks in 2019.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians are taking shelter in the Kah, Deir Hassan, Kafr Lusian and Atme regions near the Turkey-Syria border, which was purged of terrorist elements by Turkey’s Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield operations. All of the refugees are said to be suffering from a lack of basic necessities.

The de-escalation zone is now inhabited by some 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the regime forces from their cities and towns over the last years, throughout the war-weary country. The civil war in Syria erupted in 2011.