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Syria: Nearly 140,000 displaced by fighting in north-west

Nearly 140,000 people have been displaced since February by fighting in northwestern Syria, where the regime of Bashar al-Assad but also its Russian ally pound a jihadist stronghold, announced Wednesday the UN.

By way of comparison, this figure represents more than double the number of displaced people in four months of fighting to dislodge the Islamic State (IS) group from eastern Syria. More than 63,000 people fled the violence between 4 December and 31 March, according to the UN.

Controlled by the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, al-Qaeda's former branch), the province of Idleb and adjoining insurgent territories still escape the regime, which has intensified its bombing in recent months.

The shelling of the province, but also of territories in the neighboring regions of Hama and Aleppo, has left dozens dead, forcing civilians to flee for shelter in overcrowded refugee camps near the border with Turkey.

"Since February, more than 138,500 women, children and men have been displaced from northern Hama province and southern Idleb," a spokesman for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told AFP on Wednesday. UN (Ocha), David Swanson.

In April alone, more than 32,500 people left their homes in the governorates of Aleppo, Idleb and Hama, he said.

The bombings in recent days have targeted the village of Al-Qassabiyah, among others. "The majority of people have apparently moved to safer villages because of hostilities," said Swanson.

On Wednesday, an AFP correspondent in southern Idleb saw clouds of gray smoke rise in the sky after bombing. On the roads, colorful foam mattresses, rugs, fridges and washing machines were sometimes loaded onto vans, carrying women and children fleeing their villages to go further north.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) on Wednesday reported heavy shelling of the Syrian army targeting several areas in southern Idleb Province and the neighboring province of Hama, which killed at least seven civilians.

The United States on Tuesday called on Moscow and the Syrian regime to comply with their commitments and end the "escalation" of violence in the Idleb region.

The province and adjacent insurgent territories are home to some three million people, half of whom are IDPs from other rebel strongholds recaptured by Damascus.

Since September 2018, Idleb has been the subject of an agreement negotiated by Moscow and Ankara, which is sponsoring some rebel groups, for the establishment of a "demilitarized zone" separating jihadist and insurgent sectors from adjacent government areas.

This agreement allowed Idleb to avoid a major offensive by the Syrian army but the regime continues its strikes. Russian aviation has also recently bombed the province, but sporadically, according to the OSDH.

Triggered in 2011 with the repression of pro-democracy protests by the regime, the conflict in Syria has claimed more than 370,000 lives.

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Syria: Nearly 140,000 displaced by fighting in north-west


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