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UN warns of 'bloodbath' risk in north-west Syria



Syrian boys sit at a cemetery after displaced families took refuge in its prayer hall, in the Idlib town of Sarmada on February 23rd. [Aaref Watad/AFP]

Fighting in north-west Syria is coming "dangerously close" to encampments with around a million displaced people, risking an imminent "bloodbath", the UN said Monday (February 24th).

Mark Cutts, the UN's Deputy Regional Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the Syria Crisis, also said the UN was trying to double aid deliveries across a border crossing from Turkey from 50 to 100 trucks a day.

"The fighting is now coming dangerously close to an area where more than a million are living in tents and makeshift shelters," Cutts said, warning there was a risk of "a real bloodbath".

A months-long offensive by Russia-backed Syrian regime forces in north-west Idlib has seen hundreds of thousands of people flee the violence.


An aerial view taken February 22nd shows a newly-created camp for internally displaced people near the town of Maaret Misrin in Syria's Idlib province. [Aref Tammawi/AFP]

As a result of the escalation, Cutts said the UN was revising up its funding appeal for the crisis from $330 million to $500 million, adding that there was a shortfall of about $370 million.

The UN sent 1,200 aid trucks into the area in January and has dispatched 700 more so far in February, Cutts said.

"The reality is it is simply not enough. We are barely able to meet the needs of the people for the most urgent food rations and tents and blankets and winter items," he said.

Cutts said aid workers were "overwhelmed", some warehouses had been looted and the fighting had damaged some 77 hospitals and other medical facilities.

Russian strikes kill 5 civilians

Five civilians died Monday in Russian airstrikes on Jabal al-Zawiya area in southern Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that regime forces had rapidly gained ground in southern Idlib in the past 24 hours.

They have seized "several towns and villages" south of the M4 highway linking the coastal regime stronghold of Latakia to regime-held Aleppo city, it said.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the regime's ultimate aim was to wrest back parts of the M4 still under control of extremist alliance Tahrir al-Sham and allied opposition groups.

That would require operations against the towns of Ariha and Jisr al-Shughour, both along the M4.

In recent weeks, pro-regime forces have taken back control of another key commercial artery running through north-western Syria -- the M5 that connects Damascus with Aleppo, and have reclaimed the region around the northern city.

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