Syrian regime continues push into Idlib, civilians flee

More than 80 people were reportedly wounded in the bombardments of the rebel territory

France said on Wednesday it was "extremely concerned" by a Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib and demanded that commitments made at an worldwide deal in Astana to reduce hostilities be respected.

The regime's goal is to retake the southeast of the province in order to secure a route between Damascus and second city Aleppo, both under its control, according to the Observatory.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops were engaged in fierce fighting with al-Qaida-linked militants and other insurgents just outside Abu Zuhour.

Almost three million people are believed to be in the Idlib region, their numbers swelled by fighters and civilians who fled Syrian army advances elsewhere in the country.

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France said on Wednesday it was extremely concerned by the government offensive in Idlib, the biggest remaining chunk of Syria still held by anti-government rebels, and demanded that commitments made to reduce hostilities there be respected. The head of the UN Human Rights Office, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, expressed "grave concern" over risks for civilians in this area, which is supposed to be one of the four "de-escalation" zones agreed between Russia, Iran and Turkey, and where about 2.6 million Syrians live.

Al-Hussein said efforts to evacuate urgent medical cases from Eastern Ghouta were failing, reminding the regime of its obligations under the global humanitarian law.

Zeid also condemned the upsurge in civilian casualties in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta, stressing that all parties are obliged under worldwide law to distinguish between lawful military targets and civilians.

More than 340,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian war, which began in 2011 as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests.

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