Crisis in Syria reaches 'horrifying new level' as UN warns of 'biggest humanitarian horror story of 21st Century'

The situation in Syria has reached a "horrifying new level" with overflowing displacement camps struggling to cope with the huge influx of refugees fleeing rebel-held Idlib as Syrian forces advance, the United Nations has warned.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the UN warned of the "biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century" as "indiscriminate" airstrikes target overcrowded displacement camps, hospitals, schools, residential areas, mosques and markets.

The number of displaced people - the vast majority women and children - has reached 900,000 since December 1, the UN said, leaving "traumatised" refugees to sleep outside in freezing conditions as camps reach capacity.

Babies and children, unable to endure the conditions are dying despite mothers burning plastic in an desperate attempt to keep them warm, the report said.

The warning comes as Syrian troops seized rebel-controlled territory in the country's northwest in "record time".

Syrian army soldiers flash the victory sign in the Rashideen neighborhood, in Aleppo province. Credit: AP

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces captured over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in just one day as they inch closer to nearby Idlib province, a rebel-held stronghold.

Since December, Syrian troops have been on the offensive in the area, biting bit by bit at the rebel enclave, home to over three million people.

Troops were removing barriers and roadblocks on Monday in villages and districts that were earlier controlled by Syrian rebels, state TV reported.

Assad hailed the latest offensive and vowed of more to come, saying his troops would continue to fight to "crush terrorism".

"We should not rest, but continue to prepare for coming of battles, and therefore the battle of liberating Aleppo countryside and Idlib will continue, despite the empty noise that is coming from the north (Turkey), to continue to fight to liberate all Syrian soil and to crush terrorism and to achieve stability," he said.

Idlib province is home to over three million people. Credit: AP

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, reported clashes in Jabal Sheik Akeel, north-west of the city of Aleppo, the provincial capital.

The armed opposition was driven out of the city's eastern quarters in late 2016, which they had controlled for years while battling government forces in charge in the western section.

General Ali Mayhoub, spokesperson for the Syrian Armed Forces, said in a televised speech that Syrian troops were continuing their ground advances to "eradicate what is left of terrorist groups" in Syria, congratulating the soldiers for the swift advances in "record time".

Syrian civilians flee from Idlib. Credit: AP

In a statement, Sir Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said: "We now believe 900,000 people have been displaced since ‪December 1, the vast majority women and children.

"A huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey is underway, but it is overwhelmed.

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He added: "The equipment and facilities being used by aid workers are being damaged.

"Humanitarian workers themselves are being displaced and killed.

"The biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century will only be avoided if Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first.

"The only option is a ceasefire."