UN: up to 2 million could flee into Turkey from Syria offensive

Humanitarian official says funds to help displaced Syrians are far below needs

A camp for internally displaced people is pictured near Kah, in the northern Idlib province near the border with Turkey on June 3, 2019 on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. The conflict in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011. / AFP / Aaref WATAD
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Up to 2 million refugees could flee to Turkey if fighting intensifies in north-western Syria as aid funds run dangerously low, the UN said on Monday.

Syria's Russian-backed military has been pressing an assault on rebels in their last major stronghold, with air attacks and battles that have already forced tens of thousands to leave their homes.

"Our fear is if the numbers continue soaring and if the conflict intensifies, that we could see really hundreds of thousands, a million, two, heading towards the borders with Turkey," said the UN's regional humanitarian co-ordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis.

The onslaught since late April, mainy in southern parts of Idlib province and adjacent parts of Hama and Latakia, is the most intense conflict between President Bashar Al Assad and his insurgent enemies since last summer.

Mr Moumtzis said in Geneva that the situation was deteriorating and a deal between Russia and Turkey to ease the fighting was effectively no longer in place.

"We see an offensive that is really targeting, or with an impact on, hospitals and schools in civilian areas, in areas where there is the population and urban areas, which really should not be happening according to international humanitarian law," he said.

Aid organisations have been encouraged to share their locations with the warring parties to avoid being hit.

But after repeated air strikes on hospitals, many aid workers distrust such requests, Mr Moumtzis said.

"It's a catastrophe, what has been happening," he said. "For the sake of humanity, there has to be an intervention.

"A few months ago we asked to make sure that this nightmare scenario would not take place. It's unfolding in front of our eyes as we speak."

The UN appealed for $3.3 billion (Dh12.1bn) to cover humanitarian work within Syria this year, and despite generous pledges, it has so far received only $500 million, leaving the aid effort surviving "hand-to-mouth", Mr Moumtzis said.