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The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has voiced it desire to see rebels move out of Idlib’s cities to avoid a “humanitarian disaster” in the face of an impending attack by the Syrian regime. The Commission’s chief, Paulo Pinheiro described the prospect of various terrorist and armed groups holed up in populated areas leaving a “wonderful scenario”.  A panel member, Hany Magally supported the move as tantamount to sparing the civilian population.

The proposal follows a week since the UN’s Syrian peace envoy, Staffan Di Mistura, recommended a date be set for armed groups to withdraw form cities. Idlib’s population has nearly doubled in recent times with the displaced finding refuge in the province that borders Turkey.

Idlib province and the surrounding regions are under Hyat Tahrir al-Sham(HTS), a coalition steered by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, as well as a mishmash of rival insurgent groups with HTS in-charge of the important Idlib city.

Sporadic artillery attacks were reported midweek in the southern areas of Idlib province, but no air sorties have been witnessed from Monday after lethal aerial bombardment throughout the weekend.

Allies of rebels and the government had earlier met to discuss a possible forestalling of the operation, but Turkey failed to agree a deal with Russia and Iran. A Syrian opposition outfit based in Istanbul called the Syrian National Coalition(SNC) through its head, Abdulrahman Mustafa, also weighed in on the situation, promising that rebels on the ground would not withdraw in case of the government assault.

Turkey had also mobilized troops close to the Syrian border with the assault imminent, remaining defiant it would protect the 12 military posts within Idlib. Set up last year, the Turkish posts were intended to serve observational purposes as part of a de-escalation zone in an accord reached with Russia last year.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres also cautioned that extensive fighting in Idlib had the potential to create a worse humanitarian crisis than had been seen since the conflict begun.

Since a breakout of hostilities in 2011, the Syrian conflict has seen the death of over 350,000 people and the displacement of millions.