More than 920,000 people were displaced inside Syria during the first four months of 2018, the highest level in the seven-year conflict, the UN said Monday.
The new figure came on the same day that the global body’s chief called for an investigation of airstrikes in Idlib province, believed to have been carried out by Russian jets, that left dozens dead including children.
Syrian regime forces also ousted ISIS from Albu Kamal, the eastern town near the border, and stopped a rebel advance on the ancient city of Palmyra, as the civil war continues to rage on after more than seven years.
"We are seeing a massive displacement inside Syria... From January to April, there were over 920,000 newly displaced people," Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told reporters in Geneva.
"This was the highest displacement in that short period of time we have seen since the conflict started," he said on Monday.
The UN humanitarian chief warned that airstrikes in Idlib three days earlier that killed more than 40 people in the northwestern village of Zardana meant “we may have not seen the worst of the crisis” in Syria. He said escalation in Idlib could make the situation “much more complicated and brutal”.
The northwest province, bordering Turkey, has become a “dumping ground” for civilians and fighters evacuated from other opposition-controlled areas, swelling its population, he said.
The strikes have heightened fears that millions more could be internally displaced if military action in rebel-held Idlib continues and the precarious situation deteriorates.
“What these figures clearly show is that the conflict is nowhere near winding down, if anything they indicate that the conflict has escalated,” said Dr Lina Khatib, head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, of the new displacement figures.
"I think that as Assad continues to tighten his grip on areas previously held by rebels, we are going to see more internal displacement in Syria and that's because his strategy is emptying them from their original residences as much as possible," she told The National. "The fewer people that remain, the easier those areas are to control."
Displacement in the first four months of 2018 was largely propelled by the Syrian regime’s assault on rebel-held Ghouta, the suburb of Damascus that held 350,000 people before its capture in April.
Tougher measures by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, the neighbouring states who have borne the brunt of Syria’s exodus, has resulted in more people unable to flee outside of Syria’s borders and forced to move internally.
Arab-Kurdish ground offensives, supported by the US-led coalition, and Syrian regime drives to retake parts of eastern Syria from ISIS have also played their part in displacing thousands of Syrians.
Syrian regime operations continued on Monday, ousting ISIS from Albu Kamal after days of clashes following a deadly incursion by the militant group.
On Friday, the militants used at least 10 suicide bombers in their offensive on the Syrian border town, quickly overrunning several of its neighbourhoods.
It was the biggest attack on the town in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since the group lost it to regime forces in November 2017.