GENEVA: An estimated 40,000 people have fled a town in eastern Syria after three days of heavy fighting between government troops and rebels, the United Nations food agency said.
Rebels seized Al Shaddadeh in Syria’s oil-producing east on Thursday after the clashes which killed 30 of their fighters and 100 Syrian government troops, a violence monitoring group told Reuters.
“A WFP (World Food Programme) team visited the area and estimated that around 40,000 people have fled Al Shaddadeh to Al Hasakah city (the regional capital),” the UN agency told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
Northeastern Syria was hit by four years of drought before the revolt against President Bashar Al Assad started nearly two years ago, resulting in high rates of malnutrition among children, WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.
“The fighting and displacement only aggravates the misery of these people,” she said, adding the agency had sent extra rations to the area this week.
Taking Shaddadeh brings the rebels closer to the provincial capital Hasakah, 45 km to the north in the surrounding Hasakah province.
The fresh displacement adds to an estimated 2.5 million people already uprooted within Syria, many living in squalid conditions in schools and other public buildings converted into shelters, according to the United Nations.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday that more than 100 civilians have been abducted by armed groups in the Syrian province of Idlib in separate incidents, expressing slarm over what it said were “sectarian kidnappings.”
It said the kidnappings in the northwestern province occurred on Thursday in two separate incidents.
A group of some 70 men and women passengers on four mini-buses were abducted near an army checkpoint when travelling towards the provincial capital, also Idlib, by pro-regime armed men, said the Britain-based Observatory.
It said the kidnappers were from the Shiite-majority villages of Al Fua and Kafraya, while the passengers hailed from the mostly Sunni villages of Saraqeb, Sarmin and Binnish.
Hours before their abduction, in the same area, another armed group kidnapped at least 40 other civilians, mostly women and children, the Observatory said.
They had been travelling on a bus from Al Fua and Kafraya villages, it said.
Most Syrian rebels fighting troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad are Sunni, while the president’s clan belongs to an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“I fear a rise in sectarian kidnappings,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“Such acts are detrimental to the revolution.”
Heavy fighting for control of the international airport in Aleppo and a major military air base nearby has killed some 150 rebels and government soldiers over the past two days, activists said on Friday.
The director of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said the casualties are almost evenly divided.
Rebels launched a major attack on Aleppo’s civilian airport and the adjacent Nairab airfield on Wednesday.
So far, the rebels have captured most of the “Brigade 80” base, which is responsible for protecting the area, as well as an army checkpoint.
The airport itself and the military airfield, which have their own defences as well, both still remain in regime hands.