Syrian government forces entered a key town south of Idlib city on Jan. 28 as President Bashar al-Assad pushes with his campaign to recapture rebel-held territory in the country’s northwest, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Government forces stormed the town of Maarat al-Numan with a three-pronged attack, entering from the south, west, and eastern sides and backed by intense Russian airstrikes, SOHR said.
Maarat al-Numan is the second largest town in Idlib province which has been in rebel hands since 2012.
Thousands of people were forced to flee to safety further north while others headed toward temporary camps set up near the Turkish border as fighting broke out between rebels and government forces in Maarat al-Numan.
However, the camps fail to meet the needs of the thousands of displaced Syrians and many are still in urgent need of shelters, tents, blankets, and beds.
SOHR said regime forces have gained control over 24 villages and towns in Syria in less than four days.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the army had “liberated most of the town’s districts” and would “receive people wishing to leave the terrorist-held areas in Idlib and southern Aleppo through the humanitarian corridors in Abu al-Duhour, al-Habit, and al-Hader, as part of the ongoing government efforts to return people who were forcibly displaced due to terrorism.”
“Authorities, in cooperation with army units, provided all logistic requirements at the corridors, including buses, ambulances, medicines, food supplies, and medical teams to present emergency health services to the people,” the pro-government outlet added.
The latest renewed fighting in the nearly nine-year-long civil war comes just a week after Turkey, which backs the government in Tripoli, and the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Russia agreed with Western powers to push for a lasting cease-fire and uphold an arms embargo.
Turkey already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and there are growing concerns that millions more could soon cross the border.
On Jan. 27, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States strongly condemns the “unjustifiable attacks” against the people of Idlib and called for a cease-fire so that humanitarian organizations can help those who have been affected.
“The United States is monitoring with grave concern the situation in northwest Syria where the combined forces of Russia, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime reportedly are conducting a large-scale assault upon the people of Idlib and western Aleppo provinces,” Pompeo said.
“These forces reportedly are conducting indiscriminate aerial bombardment and ground attacks that have trapped thousands of civilians under bombardment in Maarat al-Numan, leaving them nowhere to flee.”
Pompeo added that the United States is “prepared to take the strongest diplomatic and economic actions against the Assad regime and any state or individual that aids its brutal agenda.”
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a deescalation zone, prohibiting acts of aggression.
However, more than 1,300 civilians were killed in airstrikes and shelling by the regime and Russian forces between May and August 2019 alone, as the cease-fire continues to be violated, according to the United Nations.