Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Half million displaced as Syria regime pushes offensive



Half million displaced as Syria regime pushes offensive

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Civilians have been pouring out of frontline areas of Syria's last rebel bastion for weeks, taking to the road with what belongings they can squeeze into their vehicles. AFP

Half million displaced as Syria regime pushes offensive

A regime offensive in Syria’s last rebel enclave has caused one of the biggest waves of displacement in the nine-year war, with tensions spiking between Ankara and Damascus following a deadly exchange of fire.

Weeks of intensive aerial bombardment and a bruising ground offensive have emptied entire towns in northwest Idlib and sent huge numbers fleeing north towards the Turkish border.

“Since December 1, some 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority – 80 per cent – women and children,” said David Swanson, spokesman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).

The exodus, coinciding with a biting winter, is one of the largest since the 2011 start of a conflict that has seen more than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 20 million displaced.

“This latest displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground,” Swanson said.

He said the UN was alarmed by the plight of more than three million people – half of them displaced by violence elsewhere – who live in Idlib province and surrounding areas.

Government troops and militia forces backed by Russian and other allied forces have in recent weeks upped the pressure on the jihadist-dominated region.

Mohammad Bahjat, 34, said he and his family were escaping deadly bombardment for the third time in days.

“We fled in the middle of the night and have no idea where to go,” he said, sitting in the front of a pickup truck next to his wife and three small boys.

“You never know when a rocket or shell is going to hit.”

Regime forces also exchanged deadly fire with Turkish troops on Monday, an escalation UN chief Antonio Guterres called “extremely worrying”.

Regime shelling of Turkish positions in Idlib killed at least five Turkish soldiers and three civilians, Ankara said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that retaliatory fire from Turkey killed at least 13 Syrian government troops.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Ankara would respond “firmly” to any new Syrian attack.

Syria’s military command said the presence of Turkish forces was “illegal and a flagrant act of aggression”, vowing to respond to any Turkish attack on its forces, state news agency Sana reported.

Guterres, speaking at UN headquarters, appealed for “a cessation of hostilities”.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed Washington’s Nato ally, calling the Syrian mortar attack “a grave escalation” and saying US officials “fully support Turkey’s justified self-defence actions in response”.

Syrian forces have retaken dozens of villages and some major towns – including the former rebel bastion of Maaret al-Numan – and continue to advance, pushing displaced populations ever closer to the Turkish frontier.

Erdogan accused Damascus of driving “innocent and grieving people in Idlib toward our borders”.

Turkey, which already hosts more than three million displaced Syrians, is keen to stop another mass influx.

But in the town of Hazano, reporters saw dozens of small trucks, vans and tuk-tuks piled high with belongings crawling along a main road.

They advanced bumper-to-bumper, carrying men, women and children, along with blankets, carpets, washing basins and furniture.

Almost 300 civilians have been killed since mid-December in bombardment on the Idlib region, says the Britain-based Observatory.

Syrian forces seized much ground in the enclave’s south and are also attacking from Aleppo province to the east.

MOST VIEWED

  • Typhoon Noru brings flash floods – 16 dead

    An official warned that that the 16th typhoon of the season, Noru, had brought heavy rains to areas the Mekong River and flooded thousands of homes in the provinces bordering Thailand. As of September 27, the death toll from the flooding had risen to 16. National Committee

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Thai Senate delegates in Cambodia to discuss anti-graft co-op

    A delegation from Thailand's Senate was in Phnom Penh on September 28 to meet their Cambodian counterparts to discuss strategies for fighting corruption and enhancing cooperation. The Thai delegates were from its Senate’s Committee on Studying and Inspecting Corruption, Misconduct and Strengthening Good Governance. They