LONDON (AlertNet) - The Syrian government is using intense and indiscriminate bombing in a "strategy of terror" directed against civilians in the north, a medical charity said on Thursday.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) issued a statement after an MSF team returned from a city in the north of Idlib province, which it says has been bombed repeatedly by government forces in recent months.
The northwestern province was one of the first areas where peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule turned into armed rebellion.
"Since we're prohibited from working on the side of the government forces, we're not able to take an impartial view on this situation," MSF's emergency operations manager, Dr Mego Terzian, said in the statement.
"But it has to be said that what we're witnessing is a real strategy of terror, orchestrated by the Syrian government, against the people of this area."
MSF, which is working in three hospitals in northern Syria, said the only medical facility still functioning in the city its team recently visited was a secret clinic run by volunteers and local health workers. It did not identify the city for security reasons.
"For a city that has seen a large portion of its residents leave, and displaced people move in from other bombed areas, there's an impressive sense of solidarity," said Dr Adrien Marteau, one of the MSF team that visited the area.
"People are stepping up to act as nurses, or even surgeons, for minor procedures, because there's simply nobody else to do it," he said in the statement. "But faced with the seriousness of the injuries and the risks involved in evacuating patients, many of the wounded are dying because they are not getting treatment or cannot be evacuated in time."
MSF said the city was suffering severe shortages of basics such as drinking water, bread and powdered milk. There was no electricity in the area and gas prices have risen sharply, it said.
Across the country about 1 million people are going hungry because of the difficulty of getting supplies into conflict zones and the fact that the few government-approved aid agencies operating there are stretched to the limit, the United Nations World Food Programme said on Tuesday.
The worst winter storm in two decades hit the eastern Mediterranean this week, bringing death and destruction to Syria, and to neighbouring countries already trying to cope with an influx of refugees fleeing Syria's civil war.
An activist from Idlib has said displaced Syrians are sheltering in caves to keep dry, and that some of the thousands of people whose homes had been destroyed by shelling or who had fled the fighting have moved into Syria's Dead Cities, some 700 abandoned settlements from the Byzantine period hundreds of years ago.
The conflict has killed more than 60,000 people in the past 21 months.