Displaced Syrian families arrive at a checkpoint at Abu al-Duhur crossing to return from militant-held areas in Syria’s northern province of Idlib to their villages in government-controlled territory in Idlib on April 4, 2018

Some 700,000 people have been displaced in fighting across Syria in the first months of 2018, a regional United Nations official has announced.

Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria’s crisis, said in a statement on Tuesday that fighting across Syria was forcing more and more people from their homes, warning that the massive displacement was posing more complicated humanitarian problems to the Syrians.

“I am deeply concerned about the continuing massive displacement of close to 700,000 Syrians since the beginning of the year due to ongoing hostilities in the country,” Moumtzis said.

The senior official said the new wave of displacements had complicated the situation in Syria, where some 6.5 million people have already been internally displaced. He said more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees also live in neighboring countries.

Moumtzis said most of those displaced in 2018, more than 400,000, were from areas in the province of Idlib, where anti-government groups hold sway. That includes more than 300,000 in Idlib itself and 137,000 from Afrin, the city which has suffered from a major military offensive by Turkey since January.

Displaced Syrian families arrive at a checkpoint at Abu al-Duhur crossing to return from militant-held areas in Syria’s northern province of Idlib to their villages in government-controlled territory in Idlib on April 4, 2018. (AFP photo)

An operation by the Syrian military into the militant-held areas in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, and the fierce fighting there with the militants have left around 140,000 people homeless, the UN said.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that some 2,000 militants and members of their families had left the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta earlier in the day. The ministry said some 4,000 more militants and their families were ready to leave the city, which has been the scene of fierce fighting between militants and pro-government forces, including the Russian military.

Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian peace and reconciliation center in Syria, said there had been no fighting in Douma in the past several days as a humanitarian pause was observed.

Moumtzis, the senior UN official, said, however, that lack of respect for humanitarian pauses, which are meant to help the evacuation of civilians and provide access to aid, was causing more and more people to die.

“Hostilities, including attacks on residential areas, civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, markets, schools … have resulted in scores of civilians being killed or injured on a daily basis,” said Moumtzis, adding, “Humanitarian organizations continue to call for minimum protection standards around civilian evacuations to be respected, including in relation to unconditional access to humanitarian assistance and protection of humanitarian workers.”

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