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Leaflets dropped over Syria’s Idlib call for reconciliation

A Syrian man held a leaflet stamped with the government forces' seal and dropped by helicopters flying over the Syrian city of Saraqib, southwest of Aleppo.
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian man held a leaflet stamped with the government forces' seal and dropped by helicopters flying over the Syrian city of Saraqib, southwest of Aleppo.

BEIRUT — Syrian military helicopters on Thursday dropped leaflets over parts of the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, calling on residents to reconcile with the government as warplanes pounded the region, opposition activists said.

The message came as a top humanitarian adviser to the United Nations warned that ‘‘war cannot be allowed to go to Idlib.’’

Jan Egeland said the United Nations had appealed to Turkey to open its border to refugees from Idlib should the Syrian government decide to attack the province, now the last major bastion of the armed opposition in the country, and home to over 1 million internally displaced Syrians.

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Humanitarian organizations have shared the GPS coordinates of 235 sites, including the locations of medical facilities and schools, with the Russian, Turkish, and US militaries, in the hopes that warring parties would avoid targeting them in the eventuality of a battle, said Egeland.

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But the strategy of President Bashar Assad’s forces has been to target precisely those institutions where medical professionals work and civilians shelter, according to rights groups that have been following the seven-year-long conflict.

Egeland said a push by the government would destroy the province and aggravate an already dire humanitarian situation marked by insufficient shelter, and substandard hygiene, water, and medical distribution. Some 2.9 million people are now residing in the province, said Egeland.

‘‘We must learn from eastern Ghouta, Aleppo, Homs, Raqqa, and elsewhere: It is no way to liberate an area by leveling everything to the ground,’’ Egeland said, citing previous offensives by Assad’s forces that crushed rebels and displaced millions of Syrians in major cities in the country.

The government’s leaflets promised the war ‘‘is close to an end’’ and called for Idlib residents to join in reconciliation ‘‘as our people did in other parts of Syria,’’ according to photos posted by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights conflict monitor.

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Activists said even as helicopters dropped the leaflets, warplanes pounded several rebel-held areas elsewhere in Idlib.