Geneva: The UN envoy for Syria has proposed civilians in the rebel-held region of Idlib, where sources say a battle is looming, be evacuated to government areas.
Staffan de Mistura expressed fears of a "perfect storm" that could have a devastating impact on nearly three million people – nearly half of whom fled to the area from other parts of the country. The reagion is largely controlled by al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
White Helmets civil defence workers and civilians inspecting damaged buildings after airstrikes hit in the village of Zardana, in Idlib province, in June..
It came as Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest military backer, announced major military drills in the Mediterranean Sea amid growing tensions over the enclave.
"Short of going to Turkey, the civilians have no other option in order not to be where fighting may take place," De Mistura said.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, second from right.
The evacuation plan was in its early phases and would need to be discussed with regional players. Russia has expressed openness to the idea.
The evacuation proposal reflected rising concerns that Idlib could become the site of the latest humanitarian disaster in a country that has faced many of them.
Syrian government forces and Syrian Arab Red Crescent oversee the evacuation by buses of opposition fighters and their families from the southern province of Daraa, Syria, to Idlib in July.
The war has killed over 400,000 people and driven more than 5.5 million to flee abroad.
De Mistura said a proposal would be a "temporary" measure so that "people can then return to their own places untouched once this is over".
Ahmad Ramadan, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition's delegation to UN talks with the government, called De Mistura's proposal "unrealistic".
"It's very regrettable," he said.
"The special envoy's role is not to call for a humanitarian corridor, but to call on Russia to stop the aggression."
Idlib is the last remaining refuge for the Syrian opposition since Assad's forces began recapturing territory from rebels in 2015.
Separately, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government planned to "liberate" Idlib, but that its priority was "to negotiate peace with those who want to surrender".
Moallem said the government tried to negotiate with a so-called reconciliation committee in the area, but al-Qaeda-linked militants arrested most of the committee members.
The militants have arrested more than 500 people accused of trying to negotiate with the regime in recent weeks, according to Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
De Mistura said 10,000 al-Qaeda-linked fighters and their families were located in the densely populated region, which is now home to 2.9 million people, many of them already displaced.
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