U.N.: Assad Offensive in Southwest Syria Displaces 50,000 People

Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad / Getty Images

The United Nations estimates up to 50,000 people have been displaced by a government offensive in Syria's Daraa province as Pro-Assad forces continue to move deeper into rebel-held territory.

Jordan’s borders remain closed to new refugees, leading many residents of Daraa province to move closer to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in search of safety, ABC News reports. Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, called on Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels to "ensure the protection of these civilians, according to international law."

One civilian, Waseem Kiwan, warned "the area is heading toward a catastrophe, a humanitarian catastrophe in every sense of the word," and "people are living in extreme fear." He said people are moving near Golan Heights "because the regime and Russian airplanes cannot strike the area" due to its proximity to Israel.

Government troops have been assaulting rebel-controlled areas in eastern Daraa province for over a week. Assad’s forces are being supported by Russian airpower in the assault against one of the last major strongholds of opposition forces.

Three hospitals in rebel-held territory were put out of service by airstrikes on Tuesday. Russian planes hit a hospital in the town of Musayfira, while Russian strikes near a hospital in Jizah left it damaged. It is unclear whether Russian or Syrian aircraft were responsible for striking a hospital in Saida.

The number of displaced civilians continues to rise as pro-Assad troops advance.

An aid worker based in Daraa said "most of those displaced are women, children and the elderly, who now live in overcrowded shelters. These shelters lack the most basic necessities. Clean water is very scarce. People are in desperate need of shelter and water."

The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta H. Fore, issued a statement on the situation in southwestern Syria, saying "the children of Syria have lived through unacceptable suffering. This cannot become the new normal."