More than 120,000 civilians have been uprooted by a Syrian army offensive in the southwest since it began last week, a war monitor said on Friday, and a senior U.N. official warned of catastrophe as they risked being trapped between warring sides.
Government forces and their allies appeared to be making significant gains in eastern Deraa province, where state media said they marched into several towns. A rebel official said opposition front lines had collapsed.
The Russian-backed offensive has killed at least 98 civilians, including 19 children, since June 19, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It has also driven tens of thousands of people towards the border with Jordan and thousands more to the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the UK-based monitor said.
Israel and Jordan - which is already hosting 650,000 Syrians - say they will not let refugees in. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said there was a grave risk of many civilians being trapped between government forces, rebel groups and Islamic State militants who have a small foothold there, an outcome he said would be a “catastrophe”.
Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have turned their focus to the rebel-held southwest since defeating the last remaining besieged insurgent pockets, including eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. The assault has so far targeted Deraa, not rebel-held parts of nearby Quneitra province at the Golan frontier which are more sensitive to Israel.
The campaign has shattered a “de-escalation” deal negotiated by the United States, Russia and Jordan that had mostly contained fighting in the southwest since last year.
BEIRUT REUTERS June 29