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Freezing weather kills 15 displaced children in Syria, UN says

Ferocious cold snap leaves eight dead in Rukban camp, with seven more killed as they flee battles in the IS stronghold of Hajin
A Syrian child cries as she stands out in the open in Abu Al-Khashab camp for the displaced from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor (AFP)

At least 15 children displaced within Syria have been killed by sub-zero temperatures and lack of access to medical care, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

According to Unicef, the UN’s agency for children, eight were killed by the freezing cold in the Rukban camp on the Syria-Jordan border.

Another seven died as they were displaced by fighting in the northeastern town of Hajin between the Islamic State group (IS) and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

"Freezing temperatures and harsh living conditions in Rukban... are increasingly putting children's lives at risk," Unicef’s regional director Geert Cappelaere said.

"In just one month, at least eight children - most of them under four months and the youngest only one hour old - have died."

Rukban, which is located in no-man’s land between Syria and Jordan, is notoriously inaccessible.

Some 80 percent of its 45,000 population are women and children, which Cappelaere said increases the likelihood of infant mortality.

Further north, the ferocious fighting between IS and the SDF, which is attempting to expunge the militants from their last Syrian stronghold, has displaced some 10,000 people, according to the UN.

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The displaced have had to flee clashes and US air strikes during a cold snap that has brought torrential rain and heavy snow to much of the region.

"Families seeking safety face difficulties leaving the conflict zone and wait in the cold for days without shelter or basic supplies," Cappelaere said.

"The dangerous and difficult journey has reportedly killed seven children - most of them under one-year-old" in Hajin, he added.

The SDF has said IS militants and their families have attempted to blend in with the displaced.

In neighbouring Lebanon, thousands of Syrian refugees were hit by Storm Norma last week, which flooded some of the country’s informal refugee camps, and covered others in heavy snow.

An eight-year-old girl died after falling into a swollen river.

The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations International, a collection of aid groups, estimated that 250,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon were afflicted by the storm.

Another storm, Miriam, is set to hit Tuesday night.