By Laith Joneidi and Bayram Altug
AMMAN, Jordan / GENEVA, Switzerland
At least 330,000 people have recently fled Syria’s southwestern city of Daraa to areas near the Jordanian border due to fierce attacks by Syrian regime forces, the UN said Tuesday.
Of these, some 135,000 are children, Hitam Malkawi, a UN spokesman in Jordan, told Anadolu Agency, describing this number as “far above expectations”.
Malkawi said the UN was awaiting the “right time” to begin distributing aid in accordance with the world body’s working principles.
Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said at a press conference that conditions in Daraa had deteriorated since the regime and its allies had launched their offensive.
“Hundreds of thousands” of people fleeing the violence have converged on the Jordan-Syria border, Throssell said, going on to urge countries of the region to open their borders to refugees.
“We appreciate Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon for hosting such large numbers of refugees from Syria and other places around the world,” Throssell said, adding that Jordan’s border with Syria should remain open to those fleeing the violence.
On June 12, the Syrian regime, supported by Iranian militia groups and Russian air power, launched a major operation aimed at capturing opposition-held parts of southern Syria.
At least 214 civilians were killed in regime attacks in Daraa between June 15 and June 30, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
The fatalities included 65 children and 43 women, according to the U.K.-based NGO.
The onslaught has reportedly forced thousands of civilians to flee to areas near the Jordanian border.
On Thursday, Amman expressed readiness to help the UN assist displaced Syrians, but without going so far as to open its border.
In recent days, Daraa has been the target of intense air and ground attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, who have advanced deep into Daraa’s eastern countryside.
Following peace talks last year in Kazakh capital Astana, Daraa was designated a “de-escalation zone” in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.
Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.