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BEIRUT — At least 45,000 Syrians have fled government advances in the country’s south in recent days, the United Nations said Tuesday, foreshadowing a potential humanitarian disaster as international powers worked to solve the growing crisis.
Speaking in Geneva as the Syrian military pushed through the province of Daraa, U.N. officials told reporters that the human exodus was expected to double, and that medical facilities had been targeted.
With violence ramping up, diplomats and experts warn that the pocket could become a geopolitical tinderbox capable of destabilizing neighboring Jordan and triggering a wider conflict between Israel and Iran.
A cease-fire agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan had largely kept the peace for months while the Syrian army concentrated on rebel-held regions closer to its capital, Damascus.
But with those conquered, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have now turned their attention to Syria’s southwest.
On Tuesday, a war monitor said that forces loyal to Assad had taken control of the town of Busra al-Harir and the nearby Laja area and were moving to cut in half a remaining island of rebel-held territory.
“Warplanes and helicopters continued hovering in the skies above Daraa province,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, citing more than 132 airstrikes, most of them on the town of al-Harak.
Local activists and a doctor described the surrounding areas as ghost towns. Much of the population had been displaced and those left behind were hiding in basements, they said.
“Heavy bombing has caused huge destruction,” said Emad, a medical worker who spoke on condition that his second name be withheld, due to security concerns. “The residents have taken shelter in the borders towns with Jordan and Golan Heights.”
King Abdullah of Jordan is in Washington this week, where he is expected to discuss the fate of the zone with American officials.
Russian broadcaster RT also reported Tuesday that the country’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, would be meeting Jordanian officials in Moscow to discuss the crisis.
“Despite the efforts being undertaken by the center for reconciliation, the humanitarian situation in the southern de-escalation area is worsening because of militants’ actions,” Gen. Alexei Tsygankov told reporters in Moscow Monday.
This article was written by Louisa Loveluck and Asma Ajroudi from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.