In pictures: Idlib's empty Ariha
An aerial view shows the rebel-held town of Ariha, in the northern countryside of Idlib province, following air strikes by pro-government forces. In recent weeks, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, have escalated their military operations. (All photos: AFP/Omar Kadour)
Air strikes have resulted in over half a million people being displaced, with areas completely deserted, including this playground in a residential area. “Since 1 December, some 520,000 people have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority – 80 percent – of them women and children,” said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Buildings have collapsed under relentless bombardment and many have left their homes and livelihoods to flee to safety. Almost 300 civilians have been killed since mid-December, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group says.
Cats roam around desolate streets in Ariha, which have been devastated by attacks. Tens of thousands of civilians have left the once-bustling town to seek safety close to the Turkish border. Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, warned the Security Council of a mounting crisis: “Unless the current hostilities stop, we will see an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.”
The recent displacement of people has put additional pressure on neighbouring Turkey, which is trying to avoid another influx of refugees. Turkey currently hosts over three million Syrian refugees.
Entire towns have been left completely empty due to the recent assault and air strikes. The increasing number of people fleeing closer to the Turkish border makes it one of the largest exoduses since the war started in 2011.
In many parts of Idlib, the only remains are the foundations of devastated buildings. Rubble covers the ground where people's homes once stood. Rescue and aid workers have been using excavators to search for victims following air strikes.