Syria: Over 150,000 flee the north-west in month of mounting violence

Unicef says escalating violence has forced 6,500 children to flee on a daily basis

A Syrian army tank advances in the Tallet el Abyad area, in Aleppo's southwestern countryside during an ongoing pro-government offensive, on January 30, 2020. The Syrian government and its Russian allies have upped their deadly bombardment of Syria's last major rebel bastion, slowly chipping away at it from the south, reducing it to just over half of Idlib province, along with slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia, following a series of government gains. / AFP / -

More than 150,000 Syrians fled their homes in January as attacks on civilians in the north-west intensified, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday.

Government forces made significant gains this week in rebel-held Aleppo and opened a new front north-east of the city, seizing the town of Maarat Al Numan as part of an offensive to secure the main motorway between the capital, Damascus, and Aleppo.

Meanwhile, fierce fighting in rural western Aleppo and across Idlib province led to increased levels of suffering for families there, the organisation said.

“If basic precautions are not taken, the numbers of casualties will rise higher. We will be left with severely traumatised survivors and services weakened to the level of near total collapse,” Lorenzo Redalie, head of ICRC’s Aleppo office, said.

The north-western part of Syria, which includes Idlib province and the adjoining areas of Aleppo, is the last major rebel foothold in the country.

President Bashar Al Assad has taken back parts of the territory from rebel groups, with assistance from Iran and Russia.

The humanitarian organisation repeated its call to all factions to avoid targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

“Our call for all the parties is to facilitate the humanitarian work, but first is to spare the civilians and ensure their safety,” Mr Redalie said.

The organisations also called for the protection of its medical staff and ambulances.

"Failure to abide by the rules of war has disastrous humanitarian consequences that can last for years," the ICRC said.

The United Nations children's fund said on Saturday that violence forced 6,500 children to flee north-west Syria every day over the past week.

Since early December, the total number of displaced children in north-west Syria has exceeded 300,000, the agency said.

“Unicef estimates that 1.2 million children are in desperate need. Food, water and medicine are in short supply," Unicef said.

"Many are simply living in the open air including in parks, amid heavy rains and in the freezing cold."

Many families in Idlib have suffered "multiple displacements and are increasingly desperate – with no way to safely escape the violence," Unicef said.

Idlib recorded the highest number of child casualties and of the 900 children killed in Syria in the past year alone, more than 75 per cent were in the north-west.

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