GENEVA (Dispatches) – An escalation in fighting and air strikes in Syria’s terrorist-held Idlib province leaves 2.5 million civilians with "no place else to go” within their shattered homeland, the United Nations said on Monday.
Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator, called on major powers to broker a settlement to end the war and avoid a bloodbath in Idlib.
The northwest province, bordering Turkey, has become a "dumping ground” for civilians and militants evacuated from other opposition-controlled areas, swelling its population, he said.
"With this escalation, this deterioration, we worry really about seeing 2-1/2 million people becoming displaced more and more toward the border of Turkey if this is to continue,” Moumtzis told a news briefing in Geneva.
"We also worry that for the people of Idlib, there is no other Idlib to take them out to, really this is the last location,” he said.
The remarks came after terrorists attacked the besieged Shia-majority Syrian towns of Kefraya and al-Foua, sparking deadly clashes with pro-Damascus fighters.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham terrorists were "heavily shelling" the towns, both in northwestern Idlib Province, and had broken into them late Saturday.
"This is the fiercest attack in around three years," SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.
The fighting, which was continuing Sunday, had killed six pro-Damascus fighters and at least three terrorists, he added.
Around 10,000 people are estimated to live in Kefraya and Foua, which have been encircled by terrorists since March 2015.
Last year, the Syrian government and militants reached a deal, known as the "Four Towns Agreement," that allowed the evacuation of residents of the two towns.
In return, people in two militant-held towns near Damascus, Madaya and Zabadani, were given safe passage to evacuate to territories under the control of terrorists or the Syrian government.
On Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov warned that the last pockets of the Daesh terrorist group in Syria wreak havoc and perpetrate acts of terror only in areas controlled by US military forces.
In another development in Syria, the political arm of a U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab militants has said again that it is ready for unconditional peace talks with the central government in Damascus.
The so-called Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which is linked to the SDF umbrella militant group, announced on Sunday that it will not "hesitate to agree to unconditional talks" with the government.
The militants are allied with U.S. and French troops deployed to Syria and control much of the country's north and east, amid reports that foreign governments plan to carve out a statelet in the area.
The picture shows smoke billowing from buildings in the Shia-majority town of al-Foua, in Syria's Idlib Province, on December 6, 2016 following a militant shelling.