100,000 Displaced in Syria in Last Week

BEIRUT (AP) -- Intense fighting between Syrian government troops and insurgents in Syria's central Hama province displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September, the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the highway to Damascus.

The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011.

In a "flash update " on Tuesday, OCHA said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib governorate. Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. Dozens of schools in rural areas of Hama province were also turned into shelters.

A shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, the U.N. agency said.

Most of those fleeing left towns and villages in government areas as the rebels advanced. They feared a violent government response to the insurgent offensive, according to Ahmad al-Ahmad, an activist from Hama. "Wherever the regime is driven out of an area, it ends up destroying it," he said in a text message to The Associated Press.

In at least one airstrike last week, government warplanes struck a van carrying displaced people fleeing Suran, a town north of Hama city, activists said. The government says it is targeting "terrorists."

OCHA said the United Nations has sent an "inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama" and was evaluating the humanitarian situation.

An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war, now in its sixth year. Of those, 4.8 million are refugees with nearly 7 million displaced internally.

In London Wednesday, Syrian opposition leaders were set to unveil plans for a political transition ahead of a Friends of Syria meeting of foreign ministers.

The High Negotiations Committee plan, aimed at ending the Syrian war with a political settlement that could be implemented with international support, is set to be made public at a session in the British capital's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

(KA)