Dec. 27 (UPI) -- More than 235,000 refugees have fled Syria's Idlib region in the past two weeks, the United Nations said Friday amid attacks by Russia on Syria's last insurgent stronghold.
Since Dec. 16, aerial bombardment of the cities of Ma'arrat An-Nu'man and Saraqab in Idlib province, as well as nearby towns and villages, prompted a mass northward displacement, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said -- and Ma'arrat An-Nu'man and surrounding areas have been left "almost empty."
Despite an August cease-fire, Russia-backed Syrian government military forces opened a ground assault this month against opposition forces in southern Idlib -- an area dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Syria's former Al-Quida affiliate. The U.N. assessment said towns and villages have been overrun by government troops, and clashes have killed thousands on both sides.
"People from Saraqab and its eastern countryside are now fleeing in anticipation of fighting directly affecting their communities next," it added.
Damascus' government-run news agency reported Thursday the "entry to more than 40 towns and villages in Idlib southeastern countryside" by the Syrian army after eliminating a number of "terrorist organizations."
A day earlier, the Syrian Response Coordination Group issued a similar report, saying 216,600 people have been displaced since November as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues a military campaign to regain control of the area.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned allies of the Syrian government against targeting civilians.
"Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province," he tweeted Thursday. "Don't do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage."