The Syrian government and its allied forces are closing in on the largest remaining rebel-held territory in the country, forcing thousands of civilians to flee towards the border with Turkey in wintry conditions.
Opposition forces claim more than 5,000 families have fled the region in the past two weeks, with reports of ‘carpet bombing’ by the Russians on towns and villages in the region.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the primary military operations against ISIS had ended and that the focus would shift to other Islamic militant groups.
Troops, with the help of Russian airstrikes, have recaptured more than 80 towns and villages in the north of Syria and breached Idlib itself for the first time since mid-2015.
An opposition activist based in northern Syria, known only as Hassan, said the conditions on the ground were ‘wretched for the rebels’ and that they are stuck in a two-front battle against government forces and the remaining Islamic State militants.
Government forces have managed to move within eight miles of Khan Sheikhoun, which is where a sarin nerve gas attack killed more than 90 people last year, which led to the US carrying out a missile attack on Assad’s troops.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said: ‘The regime wants to take the eastern part of Idlib province. Their aim is to remove any threat to the road’ between Damascus and Aleppo.’