0727 GMT February 21, 2020
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Idlib in recent weeks amid stepped up air strikes by Russian and Syrian forces aimed at clearing the terrorists from its last redoubt after almost nine years of war, according to Reuters.
The Syrian Observatory, a war monitor, said on Sunday that six towns in the Idlib countryside had fallen to Syrian government forces in the past 24 hours.
The Observatory said the government advance, backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, has brought Syrian forces to the outskirts of Maarat al-Numan, a strategic urban center about 33 km (20 miles) south of the city of Idlib on a highway that connects Damascus to Aleppo.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that around 400,000 people from Idlib Province were moving towards the Turkish border as a result of the surge in violence.
Turkey, which has a presence in the area, already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and fears that millions more could cross the border.
Moscow and Damascus say they are fighting terrorists that have stepped up attacks on civilians in Aleppo city in northern Syria.
“The army’s response will not be limited to the origins of attacks by armed terrorist organizations and will include devastating field operations that will not cease until the remnants of armed terrorism is uprooted,” a military source was quoted as saying by state news agency SANA.
Idlib remains the only large area in the hands of terrorists after the Syrian military managed to undo militant gains across the country and bring back almost all of Syrian soil under government control.
In another report, SANA said the terror outfits occupying Idlib and Aleppo countryside use locals as human shields and prevent them from leaving to safe areas through Abu al-Dohour, al-Habit and al-Hader corridors.
Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated terrorist groups have established a number of monitoring posts in the areas adjacent to the recently liberated areas in a bid to block the civilians' exodus, the report added.
On Saturday, Syria's Foreign Ministry wrote to the UN, stressing that the operation in Idlib and Aleppo against Takfiri elements "will not stop until the elimination of those terrorists, who threaten safety and security of Syrian civilians."