The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria's northwest province of Idlib, as Western powers challenged Syria and its ally Russia to provide assurances that attacks on hospitals and schools would stop.
Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Friday, UN humanitarian affairs coordinator Mark Lowcock said there had been concern about the escalating situation in Idlib for months.
"Last September, he (UN secretary-general) stressed that it was absolutely essential to avoid a full-scale battle in Idlib, and he warned that would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any we have seen in Syria," said Lowcock.
"When I briefed you here on September 18, I said a full-scale military onslaught could result in the worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century. Despite our warnings, our worst fears are now coming true."
The council was meeting in an emergency session to discuss the surge of fighting in the Idlib region that has raised alarm of an imminent all-out assault which could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
The session in New York came as the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, said at least six people were killed in 15 others wounded in air raids by pro-government forces in Idlib.
Four civilians lost their their lives in Maarat al-Numan and two others in nearby Kafarruma, the group said.
Separately on Friday, Syria's official news agency SANA said Syrian air defence batteries in Damascus had intercepted projectiles coming from Israel and downed a number of them.
Residents said loud blasts were heard across the capital, while state TV showed footage of the night sky with a point of light firing up into it and the sound of shooting. There was no immediate report of casualties or material damage, and no immediate comment from Israel.