40,000 people flee amid clashes, airstrikes in Syria: UN

United Nations, Oct 14 (IANS) Up to 40,000 people fled towns in northern Syria amid intensified conflict between government forces and rebel groups, a UN spokesman has said, citing the report of UN relief agency.

Between October 4 and 9, around 7,000 households (up to 40,000 people) fled towns in northern rural Hama in Syria, Xinhua cited the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) as saying on Tuesday.

“At least 2,000 families from the displaced have gathered in open spaces and some 200 families have managed to find shelter with host families or rented homes,” Stephane Dujarric, the UN spokesman, said on Tuesday.

“Many have opted to remain in close proximity to their homes, in the hope of returning should fighting cease in coming days,” the spokesman said.

“Most IDP (internally displaced persons) camps and settlements in the areas have reached their full capacity and cannot accommodate additional arrivals,” he said.

Syria’s army chief of staff, General Abdullah Ayoub, last week said the military has unleashed a broad offensive against rebel-held areas across the country, buoyed by the Russian air support.

“Today the Syrian armed forces have started a wide-scale offensive with the aim of eliminating the terrorists’ positions and liberate the areas that have suffered from terrorism,” Ayoub said in a statement issued last Tuesday.

On Monday, the army recaptured 70 km of rebel-held territory in Hama province, as the ground force waged attacks last Wednesday under the cover of Russian war jets.

About 50 km of the recaptured territory was under the control of Jaish al-Fateh group, an alliance of several jihadi groups, mainly the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, said the report, adding the other 20 km was under the control of other rebel groups.

The Hama battle marks the first instance where Syrian military ground forces have carried out a broad offensive under the direct Russian air support.

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