The Syrian government and its allied forces are closing in on the largest remaining rebel-held territory in the country, forcing thousands of civilians to flee towards the border with Turkey in wintry conditions, the Daily Mail reports.
The siege on Idlib, a large province in northwestern Syria which is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked militants and a hub for civilians, was expected following the defeat of ISIS late last year.
Opposition forces claim more than 5,000 families have fled the region in the past two weeks, with reports of ‘carpet bombing’ by the Russians on towns and villages in the region.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the primary military operations against ISIS had ended and that the focus would shift to other Islamic militant groups.
There are fears that a government offensive could spark large-scale destruction and displacement, with the province bordering Turkey already home to an estimated two million Syrians, including tens of thousands of people who had fled fighting elsewhere in the country.
Turkey, who support the rebels, has deployed military observers to the region as part of de-escalation deal with Iran and Russia, yet this has not stopped the fighting on the ground or Russian airstrikes against insurgents.
Troops, with the help of Russian airstrikes, have recaptured more than 80 towns and villages in the north of Syria and breached Idlib itself for the first time since mid-2015.