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Syria's 'safe haven' under attack as government targets rebels

Seven years into the war in Syria, ITV News senior international correspondent John Irvine, camera operator Sean Swan and Middle East news editor Lutfi Abu Aun headed to the northern Idlib province - supposedly a 'safe haven' for those fleeing the fighting.

Northern Syria's Idlib province is the end of the road for Syrian civilians trying to escape a war that’s now seven years old.

It’s in the north-west of the country, wedged against the Turkish border.

In the last fortnight an estimated 200,000 people have arrived here. There is barely any room for them.

Idlib has been the place people were taken to after peace deals elsewhere in Syria, like Aleppo.

Meanwhile, civilians fleeing rebel-held areas under attack have also often chosen to retreat to Idlib precisely because it has been a rebel stronghold.

The influx of people means there is scacely room to move.

Idlib is in northern Syria. Credit: ITV News

Last year the Russians, Iranians and Turks agreed that Idlib province should be a ‘de-escalation zone’ – in other words, a safe haven.

But now it seems that the Syrian regime no longer respects that status.

As government forces try to advance from the south, villages ahead of them are being bombed from the air.

Atmeh camp in Idlib province is heaving under the weight of new arrivals. Credit: ITV News / Sean Swan
The Syrian government no longer respects Idlib's 'safe haven' status. Credit: ITV News / Sean Swan
Civilians are being forced to flee to the north. Credit: ITV News / Sean Swan

The deadly strikes have forced terrified civilians to pack up and hit the road to the north.

The exodus looks set to continue as Assad seeks to crush the rebels in their last bastion.

Idlib is the safe haven that’s fast turning into a trap.