Tens of thousands of civilians have fled parts of Syria’s northern Idlib province towards the border with Turkey as Russian-backed Syrian forces gain ground following days of renewed attacks against the last rebel-held enclave.
Civilians have been fleeing bombardment en masse for a fourth consecutive day from towns and villages eastern and southern Idlib, activists and rescue workers have said, in the biggest such mass movement since September.
“Barrel bombs, air strikes, have indiscriminately targeted civilian structures in the area with the aim of driving out both civilians and fighters,” Suleiman Abdulqader, a local activist in southern Idlib, told Al Jazeera.
“The arbitrary attacks are also meant to distract fighters, many of whom have directed their attention towards evacuating their families from their homes,” he said.
These mass evacuations come as Syrian government forces have gained control over parts of southern and eastern Idlib, breaking through the rebel groups’ front lines.
Syrian state news agency Sana reported on Sunday that the army was able to “clear the villages and farms” in the Maaret al-Numaan district, describing at least 20 villages cleared of “terrorists”.
The latest escalation, led by intense aerial raids on civilian infrastructures in southeastern Idlib broke months of deadlock on the front lines.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in the past week, according to the Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria. At least 11 people were killed on Sunday in attacks on villages in the eastern suburbs, a Syrian Civil Defence spokesperson told Al Jazeera.