An assault on rebel-held northwest Syria by government forces has pushed some 700,000 people to flee toward the Turkish border and raised the specter of an international crisis, US Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Backed by Russian air power, government forces have advanced on Idlib at a rapid clip since last week, taking back dozens of towns and upending a region where millions have taken refuge since the start of Syria’s nearly nine-year war.
The campaign has ratcheted up tensions between Moscow and Ankara. Turkey fears a fresh wave of migrants piling across its border and has a dozen observation posts in Idlib, part of a de-escalation agreement it says Russia is now violating.
Speaking at an online news briefing, Jeffrey said that in the last three days Syrian government and Russian warplanes had hit Idlib with 200 air strikes “mainly against civilians” and that several Turkish observation posts had been “cut off” by the government advance.
There are “massive movements of troops pushing back hundreds of square kilometers and setting — I think now — 700,000 people who are already internally displaced on the move once again towards the Turkish border, which will then create an international crisis,” said Jeffrey.
Turkey already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Moscow and Damascus say they are fighting jihadist militants who have stepped up attacks on civilians in Aleppo in northern Syria, but rights groups and rescue workers say air strikes have demolished hospitals, schools and hit other civilian areas.