Urgent plea for war to end as 1,000,000 people are in 'grave danger' in Syria

The United Nations (UN) says nearly a million people are in ‘grave danger’ in Syria’s Idlib province, as freezing conditions add to the war-torn population’s woes.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing a Russian-backed Syrian offensive are being squeezed into ever smaller areas near Turkey’s border ‘under horrendous conditions’ in temperatures that are killing babies and young children, the UN’s humanitarian chief has warned.

But fierce fighting with Turkish-backed opposition forces continued today as government troops came under attack in the north western village of Nairab, according to Turkish media and activists.

The UN’s Mark Lowcock told the Security Council yesterday that ‘the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe’ in the last major rebel stronghold, has ‘overwhelmed’ efforts to provide aid.

He said nearly 900,000 people have been displaced since December 1, when the government offensive began – more than 500,000 of them children.

Mr Lowcock explained: ‘Many are on foot or on the backs of trucks in below-freezing temperatures, in the rain and snow.

‘They are moving into increasingly crowded areas they think will be safer. But in Idlib, nowhere is safe.’

Mr Lowcock, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said almost 50,000 people have taken shelter under trees and in open spaces.

He added: ‘I am getting daily reports of babies and other young children dying in the cold.’

Special envoy Geir Pedersen echoed concerns about ‘the tragic suffering of civilians’ and explained that fighting was now approaching the densely populated area of Idlib city and Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which ‘has among the highest concentration of displaced civilians in northwest Syria and also serves as a humanitarian lifeline.’

Calling on Russia and Turkey to help de-escalate fighting, he warned: ‘The potential for further mass displacement and even more catastrophic human suffering is apparent, as an increasing number of people are hemmed into an ever-shrinking space.’

The country’s harsh winter weather – including snow, flooding, sub-zero temperatures – are adding to the difficulties and suffering alongside rising fuel prices.

But the civil war, which officially began in 2011, is continuing to rage with today’s clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops the latest in a series in recent weeks.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said two Turkish soldiers have been killed and five wounded in an airstrike.

The ministry claimed that as many as 50 Syrian government soldiers had been killed and that five tanks, two armored personnel carriers and other equipment were also destroyed.

The country said it is ‘responding to the attack’ but did not provide further details, or say where in Idlib the attack occurred.

It follows clashes in Nairab, with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency saying opposition fighters attacked Syrian government forces and entered the the village, after Syrian government targets there were hit with artillery fire.

The United Kingdom, United States, Germany and others have said that three-way talks between Syria supporters Russia and Iran and opposition backer Turkey are not working.

British ambassador Karen Pierce, said Russia and Syria need to stop ‘indiscriminate and inhumane attacks’ in the northwest that are killing and injuring innocent civilians.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi added: ‘As humanitarian agencies, we are striving to save lives, but the space for these efforts is shrinking.

‘In the face of such suffering, humanitarian aid alone cannot be the answer.’

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