Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Flash Update No. 2 - As of 21 December 2019



  • Since 16 December, tens of thousands of civilians have fled from Ma’arrat An-Nu’man area in southern Idleb governorate, moving further north due to renewed intensive aerial bombardment. Thousands of others, who are among the most vulnerable, are reportedly waiting for the bombardment to ease and find transportation to flee from the area.
  • A pause in the airstrikes between 6am and 12 midday along the main access routes enabled the safe passage of thousands of people.
  • Volatile security situation along the access routes north and the shortage of fuel in Idleb area are limiting the movement of civilians fleeing the hostilities. Most of the recently displaced people are going to urban centres such as Idleb city, Saraqab and Ariha and to IDP camps in northwestern Idleb. A smaller number of civilians are reportedly heading to areas in northern Aleppo governorate.
  • Displacement happening in winter months is further exacerbating the vulnerability of people in need. Many of those who fled are in urgent need of humanitarian support, particularly shelter, food, health, non-food and winterization assistance.


Since 16 December, aerial bombardment has again intensified in southern Idleb, affecting large population centres such as Saraqab and Ma’arrat An-Nu’man as well as smaller towns and villages in the countryside of Ma’arrat An-Nu’man, which resulted in a new wave of displacement from the area. On 19 December, ground fighting between NSAGs and GoS forces resumed along the frontlines in southern Idleb governorate, amplifying this wave of displacement as civilians are fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next. Increased shelling originating from NSAG-controlled Idleb area is reportedly affecting civilians in GoS-controlled areas of Aleppo governorate, close to the frontlines.

On 21 December, a pause in the airstrikes over the main access routes was requested and facilitated between 6am and 12 midday. This window of lowered aggression allowed civilians to move to sites of safety. According to local sources, the number of families who fled the past three days may have surpassed 25,000 households. Thousands of other families who are potentially waiting for the airstrikes and bombardment to ease to allow them safety to move. In late October, the population of the Ma’arrat An-Nu’man city and surrounding area was estimated to be approximately 200,000 people, including the returnees in October. The numbers of people remaining in the area has significantly decreased. However, a large proportion of those remaining have shared their desire to move.

On the evening of 19 December, residents of Ma’arrat An-Nu’man town, including civilians already displaced to the town from surrounding villages, began to appeal to the humanitarian community that they wanted to move to safety, but were unable to move due to the heavy aerial bombardment. The situation is further compounded by severe shortage of fuel for private vehicles and the danger of movement along the roads. Efforts by local communities and NGOs are ongoing to assist civilians who are fleeing from areas heavily affected by hostilities. Civilians are reportedly fleeing despite the dangers of moving further north, taking advantage of pauses in aerial bombardment. Those who remain in the area, waiting to secure transportation, are likely the most vulnerable among the population with little resources.

The escalation of hostilities severely impacted humanitarian services in southern Idleb. Many health facilities have reportedly suspended operations, including the Ma’arrat An Nu’man national hospital, which now can only provide emergency services. No bakeries remain operational in the area while schools have mostly been suspended in Ma’arrat An Nu’man district since late November.

The majority of those fleeing move towards urban centres and camps further north, where the local communities are making available public buildings such as schools and mosques to host displacing families, individual residents are making available empty houses and rooms. Local sources are reporting that dozens of mosques in Idleb city as well as others in Ariha, Saraqab and Mhambal are already hosting displacing families while schools, occupied by previous families who displaced, and now received more people. Across northwestern Idleb, local communities, authorities and NGOs are trying to make available empty buildings such as wedding halls and garages to host newly arrived families. In IDP camps and informal settlements in northwestern Idleb along the border with Turkey, many displaced people are reportedly hosting newly displaced relatives in their own tents due to lack of readily available shelter options. Humanitarian partners in areas receiving newly displaced people are coordinating to provide essential assistance such as distribution of ready-to-eat rations, water and blankets, and protection interventions.

Many of the people moving report having not eaten nor slept for several days due to sustained airstrikes and shelling, and need urgent humanitarian support such as food assistance, water, shelter, non-food items such as winter clothes and health services. The humanitarian situation of newly displaced is further compounded by severe weather, need for winterization assistance and shortage of available space in many IDP camps.

Moreover, on 20 December, local sources reported that thousands of people have gathered near the Bab al Hawa crossing point at the Turkish-Syrian border to protest the ongoing hostilities in southern Idleb. However, local security forces of the NSAG have reportedly opened fire on protesters and arrested several people among them.

For further information, please contact: Markus Werne, Head of Office a.i., UNOCHA Turkey,, Tel: (+90) 342 211 8601, Cell +90 535 413 8159
Annette Hearns, Deputy Head of Office, UNOCHA Turkey,, Tel: (+90) 342 211 8604, Cell +90 535 021 9574
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