AMMAN, BEIRUT: The population of Rukban camp in a US-protected desert zone in southeast Syria has dwindled to a quarter of the more than 40,000 who lived there five months ago due to Russian moves to block supplies, Syrian aid workers, diplomats and residents say.
The fate of the camp and its residents, living near a Pentagon-run base close to the Jordanian and Iraqi borders, highlights the tussle for influence in the region between Russia and the US.
It also exposes the same strategy of years of bitter siege imposed on former opposition bastions by Moscow and Syria’s Bashar Assad’s forces to push opposition forces to capitulate.
The camp’s inhabitants, most of whom fled from Russian airstrikes when Moscow pounded towns in eastern Homs desert several years ago, say growing hunger and poverty as a result of the blocking of food supplies had forced most to leave.
“The situation is very, very bad and food supplies are not available,” said Mahmoud al Humeili, a prominent local figure in the camp who fled Homs.
Regime and Russian bombardment on Sunday killed nine civilians in northwestern Syria where ramped-up attacks by the two allies have claimed hundreds of lives since April, a war monitor said.
Idlib and parts of the neighboring provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia are under the control of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
The region is supposed to be protected from a massive government offensive by a September buffer zone deal, but it has come under increasing fire by Damascus and its backer Moscow over the past three months.
Regime airstrikes on Sunday killed five civilians in the Idlib town of Ariha, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Russian raids, meanwhile, killed two civilians in northern Hama, according to the Britain-based monitor. Shelling and airstrikes by the regime also killed two other civilians elsewhere in the northwest, it added.
The bombardment comes a day after regime and Russian airstrikes on the region killed 15 civilians, including 11 in Ariha, the monitor said.
Some 3 million people, nearly half of them already displaced from other parts of the country, live in the Idlib region.
Attacks by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia have claimed more than 740 lives there since late April, according to the war monitor.
The UN says more than 400,000 people have been displaced.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.