ANKARA (REUTERS) - At least 25,000 civilians have fled Syria's northwestern region of Idlib and headed towards Turkey over the past two days, Turkish state media said on Sunday (Dec 22), as Syrian and Russian forces intensified their bombardment of the region.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and fears another wave from the Idlib region, where up to 3 million Syrians live in the last significant insurgent-held swathe of territory. Ankara has repeatedly asked its allies to support it in hosting refugees.
Hundreds of people have been killed this year in attacks on residential areas of Idlib, according to UN agencies. While a Syrian and Russian military campaign launched late in April had subsided in August under a fragile ceasefire, rescue teams said air strikes killed six people in Maarat al Numan and 11 more in villages in the area last Friday (Dec 20).
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture Idlib, pushing more people towards Turkey. Last Thursday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said 50,000 people were fleeing from Idlib towards Syria's border with Turkey.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said on Sunday that since Erdogan gave his figure, another 25,000 had fled Idlib and come to areas near the Turkish border.
Anadolu said around 205,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the Idlib region since early November due to the Russian and Syrian attacks. It said the fleeing civilians had gone towards areas in Syria that Turkey seized in its previous military operations, or to other parts of Idlib.
Turkey has carried out three cross-border offensives into northern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, which it views as a terrorist group. Ankara has seized swathes of land across its border with the operations, and aims to resettle the Syrian refugees it hosts in those areas.