Some 30,000 people have fled their homes in northwest Syria this month to escape an assault by the government and allied forces on the country's last major rebel stronghold, Idlib, the United Nations said Monday.
The combined forces of Syria and Russia stepped up their bombardment of Idlib province and parts of nearby Hama over the past few days. The region is held by anti-government groups associated with al-Qaida as well as rival factions.
Syrian government troops have been massing around the region over the past few weeks. The U.N.undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, warned that a ground offensive could lead to the biggest loss of life this century has seen.
Some 800,000 more could end up fleeing the fighting, Lowcock said. More than half of Idlib's 3 million inhabitants are already displaced from other parts of Syria.
There have been 350,000 killed and millions displaced since the violent oppression of protests by President Bashar al-Assad sparked the civil war in 2011.
Last week, leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Tehran to discuss the fate of Idlib. The talks appeared to end in deadlock over efforts to avert conflict in the enclave.