Some 12,000 civilians are headed toward the Turkish border within the past 24 hours after the Bashar Assad regime forces, backed by Russia, intensified their attacks on the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province in recent days.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mohamed Hallaj, director of the nongovernmental organization Coordinators of Interventions in Syria, said Wednesday that 12,000 more civilians left their homes due to the violent regime attacks targeting residential places, moving toward relatively safer areas near the Turkish border.
Hallaj also said that this number may increase in the coming days and underlined families' urgent need for humanitarian aid and shelter.
Since November, regime attacks forced nearly 110,000 civilians including 20,000 families to flee their homes.
Most of these families migrated to relatively safer areas near the Turkish border, where they have been protected from terrorist elements during Turkey’s cross-border anti-terror operations.
Turkey carried out two cross-border operations west of the Euphrates River, Operation Euphrates Shield launched in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018, to drive terrorist groups, including the YPG and Daesh, from its borders.
While the country liberated northwestern territories from Daesh, it also prevented the YPG from establishing a de facto autonomous region in Syria connecting Afrin in the northwest to Kobani and Jazeera in the northeast, which Ankara describes as a "terror corridor" posing a grave security threat to its national security.
Since then, Turkey has ramped up its efforts to revitalize daily life in these areas and make local people’s return to the region possible.
Hallaj added that regime forces intentionally target residential places, hospitals, schools and mosques in order to prevent the return of civilians to these areas.
On Tuesday, the death toll from airstrikes and artillery attacks by the Syrian regime on the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province reached 22, according to the White Helmets civil defense agency.
The agency said the attacks left six people dead in the town of Bidama, seven in Maasaran, eight in Tal Minnis and one in the Kanayes villages in the province of Idlib.
Many others were wounded in the attacks and the death toll included children.
On Wednesday, two more civilians lost their lives in airstrikes carried out by regime forces.
Najat Rochdi, a senior humanitarian adviser to the United Nations special envoy for Syria, condemned the attacks targeting civilians on Wednesday saying, “Despite the fact that conflicting sides assured many times that they would target the military targets, attacks targeting health and education facilities still continue. Counter-terrorism operations do not eliminate the responsibility of protecting civilians."
The escalating violence in Idlib has shattered a deal reached in September of last year between Russia and Turkey to establish a buffer zone.
Despite eight months of calm provided by the Sochi deal, the regime, backed by Moscow, intensified its attacks starting on April 26 under the pretext of fighting the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorists holed up in Idlib. Since then, the situation has gotten worse, taking more civilian lives with each passing day.
Hosting nearly 3.6 million refugees from Syria, Ankara often warns the international community and regional countries that a new offensive could trigger a fresh refugee wave toward the West.
Since Moscow and Ankara reached a deal in September 2018, over 1,300 civilians have been killed in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Over one million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border following intense attacks.