Lisa Schlein - Voice of America
GENEVA - United Nation agencies warn a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in northwest Syria and many more civilians will be killed and injured, with infrastructure destroyed unless hostilities stop.
The U.N. expressed alarm at the sharp escalation in fighting in southern and eastern Idlib and in western and southern Aleppo. It said airstrikes and ground-based missiles are being fired without regard for civilian life.
The U.N. human rights office said scores of civilians are being killed and wounded and hundreds of thousands are being displaced. In the first five days of this month, the agency has verified that at least 49 civilians, including 14 women and 17 children, have been killed. It noted at least 186 civilians were killed last month.
Agency spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said it is shocking that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the hostilities. She told VOA all parties to the conflict are attacking civilians.
“One striking feature of the latest escalation of hostilities is that civilians are targeted even when they are trying to escape,” Hurtado said. “There are people who have been displaced several times and they are trying to flee violence and they have been hit … So at least in some cases that we have been able to verify, yes, they were specifically targeted.”
The U.N. said airstrikes by Syrian and Russian forces are responsible for most civilian deaths and injuries. Syria and its Russian ally mounted a fierce military offensive nine months ago to regain control of Idlib from rebel groups.
The spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, says 3 million civilians are trapped inside the embattled territory and people fleeing for their lives have nowhere to go.
“The military operations in Idlib have since 1 December forced 586,000 people, mostly women and children, to flee in an attempt to find safety — but the bombing and the shelling follow them and drives them into ever-smaller and ever-more-congested spaces in northwest Idlib,” Laerke said.
Laerke warns an additional 280,000 people from urban centers in the region face an imminent risk of displacement if the military operations continue. He said U.N. humanitarian agencies are calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities to halt the disaster before it worsens and many more civilians lose their lives.