As Idlib offensive looms, Syrians flee to border villages

Newly displaced Syrians arrive to a refugee camp in Atimah village Idlib province Syria

Newly displaced Syrians arrive to a refugee camp in Atimah village Idlib province Syria

Syria's government, amid growing tension between its ally Russian Federation and neighboring Turkey, is holding off on a planned offensive on a major rebel stronghold, giving Ankara more time to persuade armed groups to disperse. "Every time it follows us, we escape a meter to the north and leave it up to God, where will we go?" he said.

An estimated 2.9 million people live in Idlib, the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation met in Tehran last week but did not agree a ceasefire that would prevent an expected offensive.

The province, population 3 million, is now the final shelter for close to 1.5 million displaced Syrians that fled fighting in other parts of Syria.

Turkey has appealed for global support to its efforts to halt an offensive.

Pro-government al-Watan newspaper on Thursday cited Russian media report by Sputnik as saying that the Turkish side has offered clarification about the military reinforcement that entered Idlib over the past couple of days.

Turkish media said the two leaders would meet in the Russian city of Sochi.

A senior Syrian rebel said Turkey had sent dozens of armored vehicles and tanks, as well as hundreds of special forces personnel to Idlib, a move he said showed Idlib would not share the fate of the other rebel regions. The U.N. has warned against a threatened government offensive, which it said could displace as many as 800,000, of which only 100,000 may flee to government-controlled areas, according to the U.N.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement late Wednesday that 38,300 were displaced by the violence since September 1, a lot of them heading toward the Turkish-Syrian borders to already overcrowded displaced persons camps.

An estimated 3 million people live in Idlib, almost half of them having arrived there after being displaced by fighting elsewhere in Syria.

"Should we see three million of the people headed to the Turkish border, this is a scenario that by far outweighs the capacity of all the humanitarian organizations put together", he said.

Protesters attend a demonstration against the Syrian government's expected offensive to Idlib, in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numan, also known as al-Maarra, south of Idlib, Syria, Friday, Sept 14, 2018.

Cavusoglu on Friday said Turkey was ready to cooperate with anyone in the fight against terror groups in Syria, but criticised the Damascus regime for using the presence of jihadists groups to legitimise a possible operation in Idlib.

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