U.N. human rights officials warn that escalating fighting in northern Syria could spread and lead to more deaths and mass displacement.

Dozens of civilians reportedly have been killed and injured in intensified fighting between the militant Islamist group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, and some Turkish-affiliated armed groups in northern Syria.  

Among the casualties was a prominent Syrian activist and his pregnant wife. Media report they were victims of a targeted killing on October 7, fueling anger in the northwestern city of al-Bab.

The activist, Muhammad Abdul Latif, reportedly was demonstrating against the actions of Turkish affiliated armed groups in the area, including the seizure of properties.

The U.N. human rights office calls this a worrying development. Agency spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said her agency fears the escalating fighting might spread to other areas in northern Syria, including Aleppo and Idlib, potentially causing many civilian deaths and mass displacement.

“Subsequently, over a seven-day period from the 12th to the 18th of October, our office verified the killing of at least seven civilians, including four women and three children, in northern Syria,” she said. “At least 11 others were injured. This includes two women, seven men, and two children. The total number of civilians killed and injured may, of course, be higher.”  

Shamdasani said the casualties occurred in areas in and around the cities of al-Bab, Afrin, and Kafr Janna, as well as other areas in northern Aleppo governorate. She said civilians in residential areas were hit by ground-based strikes and small arms in fighting between the warring parties.

“We do have reports alleging that several airstrikes and ground-based strikes have been conducted by pro-government forces,” she said. “And these have hit areas in the outskirts of the city of Afrin, as well as the outskirts of villages in the western, eastern, and southern rural Idlib.”

Idlib is the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.  Efforts by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally, Russia, to regain control of the territory so far have been elusive. 

The U.N. human rights office is calling on all warring parties to spare the civilian population and non-military civilian objects. It noted strikes affecting residential areas could be a breach of the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks.

The agency reports more than 300,000 civilians have been killed during more than 10 years of civil conflict in Syria.

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