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UN: Fighting Displaces 100,000 in Central Syria in Eight Days

An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year
By The News · 07 of September 2016 08:15:14
This photo provided by the Syria Press Center (SPC), an anti-government media group, shows rescue workers using a bulldozer to remove a burned van after airstrikes hit west of the town of Suran in Hama province, Syria, Thursday Sept. 1, 2016, killing a dozen people, No available, photo: Syria Press Center, via AP

Intense fighting between Syrian government troops and insurgents in Syria’s central Hama province displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the highway to Damascus.

The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011.

In a “flash update” on Tuesday, OCHA said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate. Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. Dozens of schools in rural areas of Hama province were also turned into shelters.

A shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, the U.N. agency said.

A photo shows people carrying their baggage as they are leaving the government-besieged al-Moadhamiyeh city in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, on Friday, September 02, 2016. Buses carrying about 300 Syrians living in a besieged rebel-held suburb of the capital, Damascus, began leaving the area Friday following a deal struck with the government that grants amnesty to gunmen and restores state control. The first part of the deal's implementation evacuates about 300 people, including 62 gunmen who agreed to lay down their arms after taking advantage of a presidential amnesty, said the governor of rural Damascus province, Alaa Munir Ibrahim. The Moadamiyeh deal came a week after the full evacuation of the nearby rebel-held suburb Daraya, which was widely criticized as a forced displacement(AP PHOTO /STR)

A photo shows people carrying their baggage as they are leaving the government-besieged al-Moadhamiyeh city in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, on Friday, September 02, 2016. Photo: AP

Most of those fleeing left towns and villages in government areas as the rebels advanced. They feared a violent government response to the insurgent offensive, according to Ahmad al-Ahmad, an activist from Hama. “Wherever the regime is driven out of an area, it ends up destroying it,” he said in a text message.

In at least one airstrike last week, government warplanes struck a van carrying displaced people fleeing Suran, a town north of Hama city, activists said. The government says it is targeting “terrorists.”

OCHA said the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation.

An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year. Of those, 4.8 million are refugees with nearly seven million displaced internally.

In London on Wednesday, Syrian opposition leaders unveiled a plan for a political transition designed to bring an end to the war. It called for the departure of President Bashar Assad after six months and for elections to be held after two years.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) envisaged a three-phase plan, beginning with six months of negotiations with Assad’s government to develop a signed agreement on the “basic principles” of the transition process.

This would be followed by the establishment of a transitional government body and the departure of Assad “and his clique,” according to HNC chief Riad Hijab. The HNC called for U.N.-supervised elections to be held 18 months thereafter. Hijab conceded there were formidable obstacles hindering the implementation of this plan.