ldlib offensive could uproot 700,000 Syrians

GENEVA: An anticipated Syrian government offensive against rebels in Idlib province could displace more than 700,000 people, far more than were uprooted in a recent battle in the southwest of Syria, a UN-led
group of health agencies said in a monthly report.
Many of Syria’s battles have ended with agreements for fighters and their families to depart for Idlib governorate, where an influx of displaced people has roughly doubled the population to around 2.5 million.
The United Nations has said the province has become a “dumping ground” for evacuees.
The monthly Health Cluster Bulletin, published by a group of health-focused aid agencies led by the World Health Organization,
said aid workers were bracing for the Idlib battle.
“Increased hostilities are expected in the North West in the coming period, to result in displacements of 250,000 to over 700,000 people in
Idlib and surrounding areas,” the report said.
“This will cause an increased need for humanitarian assistance to the new vulnerable and host communities, especially emergency health services.”
Between mid-June and the end of July, 184,000 people were displaced by a battle in the south and subsequent agreements to end the fighting there.
Among the displaced, more than 10,000 went to Idlib and northern Aleppo governorate, the report said.
The UN has repeatedly warned about the dangers of an attack on Idlib.
Syria’s President Bashar al Assad said in a Russian media interview last month that Idlib governorate would be a priority for his forces.
UN regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis said in June that the governorate’s entire population of 2.5 million could be displaced and move towards the Turkish border if there was
a major battle.
Such a battle would be much more complicated and brutal than anything seen so far in the seven-year war,
he said.
The health cluster report included a map showing the breakdown of the population in southern and eastern parts of the governorate, suggesting that the displacement scenario was based on an attack by government forces from the south and east.
The map showed population estimates in four zones from the frontline up to the Latakia-Aleppo highway and the Hama-Aleppo highway, with a total of 993,000 people in those zones.
Meanwhile, a leading newspaper reported on Wednesday that almost 35,000 candidates are to contest town council elections next month, in Syria’s first local polls since war broke out in 2011. “The candidacy committees from the provinces accepted 34,553 candidacy requests for the local administration elections… from more than 55,164 requests,” said Suleiman al Qaed, who heads the Higher Judicial Committee for Elections, quoted in Al Watan.
The elections are set for September 18. Qaed told the paper, which is close to the government, that 18,478 seats were up for grabs, a slight
increase from the roughly 17,000 seats open in 2011.
“A large number of villages were transformed into municipalities, which is what explains the increase in the local seats that are being competed for,” Qaed said.
But some provinces submitted no requests at all, including eastern Deir Ezzor, northeast Hasakeh, and Daraa in the south, according to Al Watan.
Syrian government forces control the western half of Deir Ezzor province and its capital city, but in Hasakeh they only hold a few positions in Qamishli and Hasakeh cities.
Syrian troops recaptured all of Daraa province, typically seen as the “cradle” of Syria’s uprising, last month.
That has put Syria’s government in charge of just under two-thirds of the country, while militants, rebel forces and Kurdish militia hold the rest.
State news agency Sana has reported the government would open special centres in Hama city so people from areas outside regime control — northwest Idlib and northern Raqa — could still register as candidates.
The country last held parliamentary elections in 2016.
A presidential vote in 2014 renewed Assad’s rule for another seven years.
The new local councils are expected to have increased responsibilities.
“There will be much more work for the new council,” said the current secretary-general of the Damascus provincial council. — Agencies