Tens of thousands flee as Syria regime advances near Aleppo

DAMASCUS (TIP): Tens of thousands of Syrians were reported to have fled their homes on February 4 as regime troops pressed a major Russian-backed offensive around second city Aleppo.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking at a donors conference in London, said up to 70,000 people were headed towards his country to escape the fighting.

Both Davutoglu and activists said 300,000 people were isolated in Aleppo after the rebels’ main supply route from Turkey was severed by regime forces backed by Russian warplanes.

“The situation in the north countryside of Aleppo is catastrophic,” said Maamoun al-Khateeb, an activist and journalist from nearby Marea village.

“Civilians are now besieged from three sides and have just one road to the Turkish territories,” he said, explaining that regime forces threatened from the south, Islamic State (IS) group jihadists from the east and Kurdish fighters from the west.

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The donors conference saw more than $10 billion pledged to help ease the plight of Syrians affected by the nearly five-year war, just hours after the collapse of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

Western nations accused Syria’s regime of torpedoing the talks with its military offensive, and Washington demanded Moscow halt its bombing campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The growing offensive around Aleppo this week overshadowed peace and aid efforts, as regime forces sought to build on a series of important gains since Russia launched air strikes in September.

Aleppo city, Syria’s former economic powerhouse, has been divided between opposition control in the east and regime control in the west since mid-2012.

The rebels’ main supply line to Turkey was severed on Wednesday when regime troops broke an opposition siege of two Shiite towns, Nubol and Zahraa, on the route to the border.

Regime forces entered the two towns on Thursday to the cheers of residents, who chanted pro-government slogans and showered the fighters with rice.

But elsewhere in the region the advance prompted tens of thousands to flee for fear of being caught up in the fighting.

Davutoglu said 60,000 to 70,000 people were “moving towards Turkey” and 10,000 were “waiting at the door” on the border because of air strikes and attacks around Aleppo. (AFP)

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