30,000 flee in Syria as UN fears century’s ‘worst’ crisis

The UN has said as many as 800,000 people could be displaced by a regime assault on Idlib and surrounding areas. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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30,000 flee in Syria as UN fears century’s ‘worst’ crisis

  • Idlib province and adjacent rural areas form the largest piece of territory still held by Syria’s beleaguered rebels
  • The UN has said as many as 800,000 people could be displaced by a regime assault on Idlib and surrounding areas

KHAN SHAYKHUN: Violence in northwest Syria has displaced more than 30,000 people this month alone, the United Nations said Monday, warning that a looming assault could create the century’s “worst humanitarian catastrophe”.
Idlib province and adjacent rural areas form the largest piece of territory still held by Syria’s beleaguered rebels, worn down by a succession of government victories in recent months.
President Bashar al-Assad has now set his sights on Idlib, and his forces have stepped up bombardment of the densely populated province since the beginning of the month.
That has prompted an estimated 30,452 people to be displaced within Idlib and parts of adjacent Hama province between September 1 and 9, the UN’s humanitarian coordination agency (OCHA) said Monday.
“We’re deeply concerned about this recent escalation of violence, which has resulted in the displacement of over 30,000 in the area. That’s something we’re monitoring very closely,” OCHA spokesman David Swanson told AFP.
Many made a dash for Syria’s northern border with Turkey, with just under half seeking refuge in displacement camps and others living with local families or renting apartments.
An AFP correspondent in Idlib has seen dozens of displaced families head towards the frontier in recent days to escape bombing elsewhere.
On Monday, on the main highway running across the province, men on motorbikes headed north with their children on foot, herding dozens of sheep.
Abu Jassim said he and his family were fleeing the latest bombardment near the southern town of Khan Sheikhun, after already having been displaced several times within the province due to the war.
“They hit with four rockets so we escaped with our flock”, he said.
“We go wherever it’s safe,” said the man in his 30s.
“I have 30 sheep. Every day, I need water, hay and bran to feed them.”
The UN has said as many as 800,000 people could be displaced by a regime assault on Idlib and surrounding areas.
Some three million people live in the zone now, about half of them already displaced by the brutal seven-year war and others heavily dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.
For weeks, regime troops backed by Russia and Iran have massed around Idlib’s periphery, with deadly air strikes, shelling, and barrel bombs falling with increased intensity in recent days.
Russia is due to brief the United Nations Security Council later Tuesday about the results of the Tehran summit it held with Iran and Turkey on the fate of Syria’s Idlib province.
Meanwhile the bombs keep falling.
Two children were killed in heavy barrel bomb attacks on a village in Idlib’s south Sunday, a day after 10 civilians died in shelling across the rebel zone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 350,000 people and forced millions more out of their homes, but the UN has warned a full-blown attack on Idlib could bring unprecedented suffering.
On Monday, its humanitarian chief made an urgent appeal.
“There needs to be ways of dealing with this problem that don’t turn the next few months in Idlib into the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life in the 21st century,” Mark Lowcock told reporters in Geneva.
He acknowledged that there were many rebels and fighters from “terrorist” groups in the province, but stressed that “there are 100 civilians, most of them women and children, for every fighter in Idlib”.
Idlib is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) -- an alliance spearheaded by powerful extremists once linked to Al-Qaeda.
Its population ballooned as the regime chalked up a series of victories across the country, reaching deals that saw tens of thousands of rebels and civilians bussed into Idlib.
The escalating bombardment has already damaged civilian infrastructure.
At least two hospitals and two centers running rescue operations for wounded people were put out of service by shelling and air strikes, according to the Britain-based Observatory and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which backs medical centers in Syria.
The conflict’s three powerbrokers -- regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey -- agreed at a summit last week to “stabilize” Idlib, but few details emerged on how they would do it.
Delegations from the three countries will be in Geneva on Tuesday to meet the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.
Moscow wants to keep rebels from using weaponized drones against Russian warplanes positioned nearby.
Meanwhile Turkey, which already hosts three million Syrian refugees, is keen to prevent an assault that would see hundreds of thousands more mass along its border.


Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

Updated 48 min 50 sec ago
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Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN: An Iranian media outlet close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) published a video on Tuesday threatening the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with missile attacks.
The video tweeted and later deleted by the semi-official Fars news agency comes as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for an attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday.
The video shows file footage of previous ballistic missile attacks launched by the Guard, then a graphic of a sniper rifle scope homing in on Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video also threatened Israel.
"The era of the hit-and-run has expired," Khamenei's voice is heard in the video, the segment taken from an April speech by the supreme leader. "A heavy punishment is underway."
Iran has fired its ballistic missiles twice in anger in recent years. In 2017, responding to an Daesh attack on Tehran, the IRGC fired missiles striking targets in Syria. Then, earlier this month, it launched a strike on a meeting of Iranian Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.
The IRGC, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei, has sole control over Iran's ballistic missile program.
Under Khamenei's orders, Iran now limits its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which gives Tehran the range to strike Israel, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as regional American military bases.
Saturday's attack targeted one of many parades in Iran marking the start of the country's long 1980s war with Iraq, part of a commemoration known as "Sacred Defense Week." Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire as rows of troops marched past officials in Ahvaz.
Arab separatists in the region claimed the attack and Iranian officials have blamed them for the assault. The separatists accuse Iran's government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Iran's Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is the provincial capital, also has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.
Daesh also claimed Saturday's attack, initially offering incorrect information about it and later publishing a video of three men it identified as the attackers. The men in the video, however, did not pledge allegiance or otherwise identify themselves as Daesh followers.
Iranian state TV reported that authorities have detained 22 people linked to the group behind the attack and confiscated ammunition and communication equipment. Fars also reported that five militants took part in the assault, all of whom were killed. It said two of them were brothers and another one was their cousin.
On Monday, the IRGC's acting commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, vowed revenge against the perpetrators and what he called the "triangle" of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.
"You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions," the general said. "We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge."
Khamenei said Monday that the attack showed Iran has "a lot of enemies." He linked the attackers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"Definitely, we will harshly punish the operatives" behind the terror attack, he said.