EYEAFRICA TV: Geneva, Switzerland: At least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes in northwest Syria amid intense air and ground bombardment, with winter conditions worsening an escalating humanitarian crisis, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that the vast majority of the civilians are women and children.
“We are alarmed at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Idlib, in northwest Syria, where over 3 million civilians remain trapped in a war zone – the vast majority of them are women and children. At least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes in southern Idlib since mid-December, following a sharp escalation in hostilities,” said Laerke.
Many of those who have fled are living in tents and makeshifts shelters in inhospitable places, with harsh winter conditions in Idlib governorate, a densely populated area that already hosts displaced people from all over Syria. The Idlib area is the last rebel-held swathe of territory in Syria’s nearly nine-year civil war.
“Every day we receive disturbing reports of families caught up in the violence, seeking refuge and access to essential services in overcrowded camps and urban areas. Many are now sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings. Across Idlib we get reports of critical shortages of food, shelter, health and winterization assistance, as well as other basic services required for their survival,” said Laerke.
“Indeed, the millions of people in Idlib they are trapped. As you have seen things getting increasingly worse over the past weeks they currently have nowhere to go. We have seen, as I mentioned, a very significant increase in internal displacement. Since mid-December an additional 300,000 movements of people on the run.” the UN OCHA spokesperson added.
According to OCHA, at least nine civilians were killed and 20 others injured on Sunday in the town of Ariha, south of the city of Idlib, following airstrikes in the area. The airstrikes also resulted in destruction and damage to buildings, including a kindergarten and a mosque.
Airstrikes and shelling are taking place on a nearly daily basis in many towns and villages. OCHA reported that at least 13 health facilities in Idlib have been recently forced to suspend their operations for security reasons.
“Between May and August last year we have a number of at least 1,300 civilians were killed by air strikes and shelling,” Laerke said, specifying that more recent data was not available.
Asked about the UN cross-border humanitarian operation from Turkey to Syria, the OCHA spokesperson said that it is one of the most scrutinized aid delivery systems in the world today, a lifeline for 2.7 million people who rely on it for their survival. The delivery of cross-border and cross-line humanitarian aid, originally authorized through the UN Security Council 2165 (in July 2014, and renewed several times since then), is a key issue currently before the Security Council.
“One of the reasons why it is so critically important that we continue with the cross-border operation is to keep the death toll down. Of course, we cannot prevent shelling and fighting, we can’t call for that to stop, but what we can do is that we can provide aid so that people survive where they are and this during this very harsh winter, and that is what we are doing. As I mentioned, 2.7 million really rely on our assistance for their survival and we need to see that continue.”
Laerke stated that there was “no plan B” for the current operation, and that this was the only viable way to reach the people in need.