Photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian troops, journalists, and civilians watching as buses evacuate people from the two pro-government villages of Foua and Kfarya, at Tel el-Eis, the crossing between Aleppo and Idlib pro
Photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian troops, journalists, and civilians watching as buses evacuate people from the two pro-government villages of Foua and Kfarya, at Tel el-Eis, the crossing between Aleppo and Idlib pro

GENEVA - Amid reports of shelling and bombing by Syrian government forces of rebel positions in Idlib, a senior U.N. official warns of a bloodbath if a full-scale war breaks out in this northwestern province.

Idlib is the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria. President Bashar-al-Assad has announced his interest in retaking the area. The United Nations is deeply worried about the prospect of war breaking out in Idlib, which shares a border with Turkey.

The province is packed with 2.5 million residents, and hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people who have fled there as a place of refuge of last resort. Jan Egeland, senior adviser to the special envoy for Syria, warned that in case of war, everyone will be trapped in Idlib because there is nowhere else to go.

"This area is screaming for diplomatic solutions," he said. "It is yearning for the best diplomats, the best military negotiators to sit down between each other and come to agreements knowing that there would not be another Idlib to be evacuated to."

Egeland conceded that among the many armed groups in Idlib, there are a number of people designated as terrorists by many countries and the United Nations. But he said they constitute a small minority and it would be indefensible to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of women, children and other civilians in the name of fighting terrorism.

"We cannot allow war to go to Idlib," he said. "We must learn from eastern Ghouta, from Aleppo, from Homs, from Raqqa and elsewhere. It is no way to liberate an area by leveling everything to the ground."

Egeland is urging Russia, Turkey, Iran, western powers, and Gulf countries with influence to put pressure on the armed opposition groups to stop their reckless, violent behavior. He said this war must not end in a bloodbath, but with an agreement.