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Syria Violence Sends Thousands of Civilians Fleeing 'De-Escalation Zone'

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After almost seven years, some half a million people killed and a recent string of victories by the Syrian military, there's a sense the Syrian war may be coming to a close.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, declared last month its mission accomplished and announced a partial pullout of its troops. Syrian state television now regularly broadcasts footage celebrating its military commanders as national heroes.

And investors from around the world speak in increasingly excited terms about that most lucrative phase of war: reconstruction.

Yet the reality on the ground is that the violence is far from over.

A stark reminder of this is erupting in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

In the last few days, more than 100,000 civilians have fled their homes and refugee camps, according to the United Nations, escaping a renewed government offensive to take back control of the southern edges of the province. They're fighting against a plethora of rebel groups who seized much of the province in the early days of the civil war.

Civilians are fleeing to safer reaches of the province close to the northwest border with Turkey. Aid workers report roads jammed with cars and trucks filled with people escaping with the few possessions they can carry.

Paul Donohoe, a senior media officer for the International Rescue Committee, says "more than two-thirds" of these displaced people "are living in makeshift tents unable to withstand the wintry conditions."

One Syrian who works with an international aid organization, who asked not to be named as he doesn't have permission to speak to the media, broke down as he spoke to NPR about the scale of the humanitarian fallout from the years-long war.

"I was in Syria two days ago and I couldn't stop crying," he said on Wednesday. "This time last year, we had the fall of Aleppo city. And now we have people from Idlib's countryside. People are so worried, so scared, so disappointed.

"We try to help. But no one can really make things better. No one can imagine what it's like to have to leave your home and not know if you'll ever be able to return," he added.

Many of those on the run are people........