North Syria exodus as families flee assault on ISIL

More than 65,000 people have been forced to flee fighting in northern Syria, ravaged in recent weeks by dual offensives on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, the United Nations said.

The UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, said that tens of thousands of people have left their homes in northern Aleppo province, particularly around the former ISIL stronghold of al-Bab.

“This includes nearly 40,000 people from al-Bab city and nearby Taduf town, as well as 26,000 people from communities to the east of al-Bab”, OCHA said adding that nearly 40,000 people displaced from the town fled north to areas controlled by other rebel forces.

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Since February 25, OCHA said, another 26,000 people fled violence further east, where Syrian government forces supported by Russian air power have also been waging a fierce offensive against ISIL. 

It added that the “high contamination” of unexploded bombs and booby traps set by retreating ISIL fighters was complicating efforts to return.

Many of those fleeing the violence sought refuge in areas around Manbij, a town controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said there was a “growing humanitarian crisis”.

“The civilians we talked to mentioned some horrific details, including their money being stolen and also children being slaughtered by ISIL,” she said.

“There’s also the issue of return – when and if. ISIL have planted many mines in the neighbourhood and that will become a big issue if and when they are allowed to return home.” 

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An AFP news agency correspondent in Manbij said that long queues of families were still forming at checkpoints leading to the town on Sunday.

Pick-up trucks full of children and women wearing full black veils were being searched individually by SDF personnel before being allowed to enter.

On Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 30,000 people had been displaced by the government’s offensive on ISIL fighters.

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Aleppo province hosts tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, many in camps near the Turkish border.

“We left our homes with nothing: no fuel, no bread. Our children are starving,” said Jumana, a 25-year old Syrian woman who fled the clashes with her two children.

“Daesh [ISIL] was shelling us, the airplanes were hitting us. Our children were terrified. We were barely able to save ourselves,” she said on the outskirts of a village around 18km from Manbij.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army has made steady progress in recent weeks in eastern Aleppo countryside towards the Euphrates River where it now occupies more villages, state-owned Ikhbariyah quoted a military source as saying.

The army’s gains follow a push to the south and east of the city of al-Bab, which was captured by Turkey-backed rebels late last month. 

 

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies