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216,000 civilians have fled homes amid Syria offensive in Idlib — relief group

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Truckloads of civilians on the main road near Hazano, Syria fleeing a Syrian military offensive
Truckloads of civilians on the main road near Hazano, Syria fleeing a Syrian military offensive   -   Copyright  (AP Photo/Ghaith al-Sayed)

More than 200,000 men, women and children fled their homes in northwest Syria in buses, trucks and cars in recent weeks, amid intense air and ground bombardment by government forces, a Syrian relief group estimated on Wednesday.

Government forces have been bombarding southern and eastern Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the war-torn country, since late November. A ground offensive that began last week has displaced more people and government forces have captured more than 40 villages and hamlets, according to the Syrian army and opposition activists.

The Syrian Response Coordination Group, a relief group active in northwestern Syria, said 216,632 people have fled their homes, many of them with no specific place to go. Many have been heading toward the Turkish border for safety.

"We call upon the international community to pressure the regime and its allies to stop their military campaign," the group said.

(AP Photo/Ghaith al-Sayed)
Civilians flee the Syrian military offensive in Idlib province on the main road near Hazano, Syria(AP Photo/Ghaith al-Sayed)

Videos posted online by activists and the opposition's Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, showed long lines of cars, trucks and buses heading north. People carried their valuables, and on most buses, bags and mattresses were loaded.

Idlib province is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants. It's also home to three million civilians, and the United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border.