The United Nations said Friday the potential of a full scale battle in Syria’s Idlib province could result in the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century, Anadolu Agency reports.
Mark Lowcock, the UN’s under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator, said any operation with full military force “will unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any we have seen in Syria.”
Some 1.5 million people currently reside in Idlib, roughly half are displaced from other parts of the country.
Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression would be expressly prohibited.
The Bashar al-Assad regime, however, has consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the de-escalation zone.
In recent weeks, the regime and its ally, Russia, have intensified attacks against the last major rebel enclave. The offensive threatens to unleash a major humanitarian catastrophe with 180,000 civilians forced to flee their homes in the last three weeks.
One-hundred and eighty people have been killed in that time and 80,000 people have resorted to sheltering in open fields or under trees, according to Lowcock.
“Despite our warnings our worst fears are now coming true,” Lowcock told the UN Security Council.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected severity.
Lowcock also said hospitals were being subjected to attacks, with the World Health Organization reporting 20 attacks on 18 facilities in the past three weeks.
Due to these attacks, 49 facilities have suspended activities. Some hospitals have closed in fear of also being subject to bombing or other forms of fighting.
“Between them they provided an average each month of at least 171,000 medical outpatient consultations and 2,760 major surgical operations,” Lowcock said.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in 2016, which condemned any attack against medical facilities in a conflict area. Some Council members considered such attacks to be constituted as war crimes.