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Syria regime must halt 'escalation of violence': EU



Civilians inspect the damage following Syrian regime bombardment on a makeshift camp in the Idlib village of Qah on November 21st. [Aaref Watad/AFP]

The EU on Sunday (December 29th) called on Syria's regime and its allies to halt "indiscriminate" military attacks on civilians in the country's north-west, where an intensifying Syrian and Russian bombardment has displaced tens of thousands.

Civilians have streamed out of affected areas of Idlib province in recent weeks to escape heightened attacks on the southern edge of the opposition-held enclave.

"The escalation of violence in the north-west of Syria by the Syrian regime and its allies must cease," the EU said in a statement issued by a spokesperson for European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell.

The statement said airstrikes and shelling had led to "countless civilian deaths".

"All parties have the obligation to protect civilians. The regime and its allies must cease indiscriminate military attacks and respect international humanitarian law," the statement said.

Violence has intensified since mid-December despite an August ceasefire deal and international calls for a de-escalation.

More than 235,000 people fled the area between December 12th and 25th, mostly from the city of Maaret al-Numan, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Call for 'unhindered humanitarian access'

The EU called for urgent unhindered humanitarian access to the three million civilians thought to be living in Idlib province.

It acknowledged that "terrorist groups" were operating in the region, but stressed that combating these networks "does not permit the undermining of international humanitarian law or the targeting of civilians".

The Idlib region is dominated by Tahrir al-Sham, an extremist alliance.

Residents of the province mainly depend on cross-border aid, which came under threat in December after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended such deliveries for a year.

The move raised fears that vital UN-funded aid could stop entering Idlib from January unless an alternative agreement is reached.

The Syrian regime, which now controls 70% of Syria, has repeatedly vowed to take back the region.

Backed by Russia, the regime launched a blistering offensive against Idlib in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people.

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