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Cold kills Syrian newborns as families flee fighting in eastern Syria

Nearly 30 children dead in eight weeks as families brave harsh conditions
Kurdish and local Arab tribes backed by a US-led coalition are battling the last remaining militants near the town of Hajin in the Euphrates River valley (AFP)

Dozens of children, including several newborn babies, have died from cold as families continue to flee one of the last Islamic State (IS) group strongholds in eastern Syria, the United Nations said on Thursday. 

The World Health Organisation said the Al-Hol refugee camp, the main camp for Syrians displaced by IS fighting, required urgent humanitarian access.  

"At least 29 children and newborns are reported to have died over the past eight weeks, mainly from hypothermia, while travelling to the camp or shortly after arrival," the WHO said in a statement.

Twenty three thousand people, "mainly women and children fleeing hostilities in rural areas of neighbouring Deir Ezzor," had reached the camp over that period, the organisation added.

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Kurdish and local Arab tribes backed by a US-led coalition are battling the last remaining militants near the town of Hajin in the Euphrates River valley.

"Many of them have walked or travelled in open trucks for several days and nights in the bitterly cold winter weather," the WHO said.

UN has said the Al-Hol refugee camp had tripled in less than two months (AFP)

The UN health agency said the displaced were often delayed for hours in the open countryside while the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) screened them to look for IS militants trying to blend in.

"The situation in the camp is now critical. Its population has tripled in size (from 10,000 to almost 33,000 people) in less than two months," it said.

Earlier this month, the UN health agency expressed concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Rukban refugee camp, situated near the border with Jordan. 

WHO said that approximately 40,000 people, mainly women and children, had been stranded in the settlement, with harsh winter conditions leading to several deaths. 

It added that winter diseases associated with overcrowding and indoor air pollution had left young children vulnerable, as health care facilities inside the refugee camp continue to be poorly resourced. 

Syria's war has killed at least 360,000 people and spiralled into a complex conflict involving world powers since starting in 2011, with the repression of anti-government protests.

IS, which once controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, has been pounded by multiple offensives.

Since September, more than 1,000 IS fighters have been killed in the fighting compared with just under 600 SDF members, while 15,000 people have fled Hajin, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.