The regime attacked a Turkish military observation post in Idlib, officials said. The Russia-backed assault on northwestern Syria has killed over 800 people, with the UN warning three million people are at dire risk if the offensive continues.

Civilians flee Syria's opposition and rebel stronghold of northwestern Idlib. August 21, 2019.
Civilians flee Syria's opposition and rebel stronghold of northwestern Idlib. August 21, 2019. (AFP)

The UN has issued a warning that three million people in northwestern Syria are at dire risk if the regime continues its offensive against civilians and the civilian infrastructure.

The Russia-backed Syrian regime broke a ceasefire and launched a deadly assault on Idlib and surrounding areas in April, killing hundreds in nearly four months. 

US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical facilities in the northwest, said the number of civilians killed by the Syrian regime or Russian forces stood at more than 730. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said more than 500 civilians have died in hostilities.

''The Secretary-General said he is deeply troubled by the continued escalation in northwest Syria and the prospect of an offensive deeper into Idlib, which could trigger a new wave of human suffering possibly impacting more than three million people," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told a press conference late Wednesday.

''The Secretary-General reiterates his urgent call for the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib to be upheld," she added, referring to the ceasefire deal reached between Turkey and Russia.

She decried the displacement and sufferings of the local population, thousands of whom had to move to a different location several times in order to avoid regime bombs.

''And between 1 May and 18 August of this year, 576,000 movements by displaced people have been recorded in the north‑west of the country," she said.

"Many people have been displaced up to five times, with some having been forced to move as many as 10 times due to the ongoing fighting."

The Assad regime on Thursday added to the displacement of Syrians. Amid the assault on Idlib, the regime announced through state media that civilians could cross over from Soran to its strongholds.

Most of the Idlib population was internally displaced persons, trying to dodge death in an eight-year-old war brought on by Bashar al Assad's crackdown in 2011 on protests.

Ten of thousands of people already fled to Syria's border with Turkey in the last few days, rights groups and opposition sources said on Wednesday.

They left Maarat al Numan, a city in Idlib province that has been a sanctuary for families fleeing former rebel areas, as the Russian-led push succeeded in capturing Khan Shaykhun further south.

"The flow of cars and vehicles leaving is not stopping," said Abdullah Younis from the city. Rescuers there said around 60,000 people had fled in the last four days alone.

Once civilians leave the southern part of Idlib province and the north of Hama, the regime would be able to take more areas from the opposition forces – just as it has done in the past in Douma

Syrian regime attacks Turkish observation post

Continuing its violations of last year’s ceasefire agreement, the regime attacked a Turkish military observation post in northwestern Syria.  

Regime jets fired heavy machine guns near observation point 8 in Maaret al Numan, in southeastern Idlib –– which is meant to be a de-militarised zone –– Turkish officials said.  

There were no Turkish casualties and the harassment fire did not cause any damage, they added.

Observation post 8 in Sirman is located north of Khan Shaykhun, a town regime forces battered on Wednesday.  

On Monday, regime air strikes targeting a Turkish convoy en route to observation post no 9 killed three civilians and injured 12 others in Maaret al Numan. 

Violation of ceasefire 

Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib into a zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the area.

The de-escalation zone is currently inhabited by four million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced by regime forces from cities and towns throughout the war-weary country.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Moscow will continue its cooperation with Turkey within the framework of the Sochi deal.

"Regarding the situation in Idlib, we believe it is important to adhere to all the agreements on Idlib, aiming both to continue the fight against terrorists and to ensure the security of the civilian population," she said.

Zakharova also expressed Moscow’s commitment to the implementation of the relevant agreements with Ankara.

"...not everything is going as planned, but at the same time we are in contact with our Turkish colleagues to fine-tune the agreements that we have reached," she added.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.

The war in Syria has killed more than 500,000 people since it started with the brutal suppression of anti-regime protests in 2011.

More than 10 million people have been displaced during the course of Syria's more than eight-year conflict, according to the UN.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies