Tens of thousands from Idlib flee near Turkey border

At least 80.000 people have fled Syria’s Idlib to the Turkish border in the last five days, running away from increased bombings by the Russia-backed Damascus government forces, Al Jazeera reported on Saturday, quoting Syria's Response Coordination Group.

“Following the intensification of air strikes and shelling since 16 December in southern Idlib, tens of thousands of civilians are reportedly fleeing from Maaret al-Numan area in southern Idlib governorate to (the) north,” UN humanitarian agency OCHA said on Friday.

“The numbers of families who already fled in the past 72 hours are estimated to have reached tens of thousands and there are thousands of others who are potentially waiting for the air strikes and bombardment to ease to allow them safety to move,” it said.

Turkey, which already hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, made a deal with Russia in September 2018 to prevent another wave of massive refugee flow from Idlib, which is home to some three million people including many displaced by Syria's civil war.

The Turkish-Russian agreement aimed at establishing a de-escalation zone in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria. But, the Al-Qaeda-linked Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) significantly expanded its territory after the agreement was signed, provoking Syrian government forces to launch an offensive in the region in late April, with air support from Moscow.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Idlib on Friday to protest what they called the neglect of their plight by the International community, Al Jazeera said.

In the town of Sarmada, a hub for aid going into Syria that stands just a few kilometres from the border with Turkey, fighters from the HTS set up barriers to stop protesters from walking towards the border, it said.

Turkish security forces told Al Jazeera that they had been forced to send reinforcements to ensure protesters did not cross into Turkey.