GENEVA - The U.N. human rights office warns civilian casualties are growing in northwestern Syria's Idlib province as fighting between Russian-backed Syrian government forces and rebels allied with al-Qaida escalates.
The U.N. agency says it is extremely worried about the military action in Idlib, which is putting at risk the lives of three million civilians trapped in the province. Agency officials express concern at the speed with which a recent 72-hour cease-fire was broken by the warring parties.
They say ongoing airstrikes and ground-based attacks in Idlib and Hama governorates do not bode well for peaceful prospects in the region.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Marta Hurtado says indiscriminate bombing and ground-based attacks by both pro-government forces and rebel armed groups has resulted in a high number of civilian casualties and injuries, as well as significant damage to civilian property.
"Military objects have been placed in close proximity to civilians and civilian objects, resulting in deaths and injuries among civilians, and causing significant damage to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, mosques, schools and markets," she said.
This latest military escalation started at the end of April. Since then, the U.N. reports at least 105 civilians have been killed. It says about two-thirds of those deaths have occurred between May 8 and 16.
The U.N. says the intensified fighting has also forced at least 200,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety.
The U.N. human rights office is appealing to the warring factions to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law. It says parties to the conflict are obliged to do everything feasible not to put civilians in harm's way.