BEIRUT -- At least 120,000 people have been displaced in Syria this month because of fighting, according to U.N. humanitarian officials. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the people fled their homes in the Aleppo, Hama and Idlib governorates between Oct. 5 and Oct. 22. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday that most remain in the three governorates but some have fled to camps near the Turkish border. He said most people in Aleppo moved toward villages and towns in the countryside west of the city. Dujarric said the displaced Syrians need tents, basic household items, food, water and sanitation services. He said the U.N.'s humanitarian partners are scaling up their response, and distribution of cooked and ready-to-eat food has started to those displaced in the three governorates but needs to be stepped up. The U.N. report largely matches up with a similar report Monday by the Norwegian Refugee Council, which estimated that 100,000 Syrians have been displaced in the last three weeks by the recent surge in fighting following the start of an airstrike campaign by the Russian military. The council said that this new exodus is pressuring already overcrowded and overstretched camps in the country. In a statement, the group said that the new wave of displacement is mostly from the province of Aleppo, where Syrian government and allied troops, emboldened by Russian airstrikes, began a ground offensive on Oct. 16. The militant Islamic State group has also seized new territories in Aleppo, pushing out rival rebels and fighting with government troops. Others were displaced by the airstrikes and fighting in Hama and Homs. "This is a cry for help," said Karl Schembri, the Refugee Council's media adviser. He said the newly displaced are heading toward already crowded facilities along the border with Turkey. "There are already people moving day-to-day to find places" to lay their tents, while rainy season has begun, he said. Last week, a U.N. official in Geneva said that around 35,000 people are reported to have been displaced from just two villages on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo city. The civil war, in its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced half of Syria's prewar population of 23 million. Russia began conducting airstrikes in Syria on Sept.30, saying it aims to help the government defeat the IS group and other "terrorists." But many of the strikes have targeted Syrian rebels in areas where the extremist group is not present and have hit civilians. The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, said Monday that indiscriminate Russian aerial attacks are now the leading killer of civilians. Najib Ghadbian, the coalition's U.N. representative, said Russia's intervention in Syria is facilitating President Bashar Assad's "war on civilians" and elimination of moderate opposition forces -- contrary to Moscow's claim that its campaign is aimed at countering terrorist extremist groups. Ghadbian said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council that Russia has carried out more than 297 airstrikes since initiating its campaign on Sept. 30. According to data from Syrian Civil Defense rescue workers, he said, more than 436 civilians have been killed since then and "more than half of these civilian deaths are directly attributable to Russian airstrikes." The new violence has also heightened the tempo of diplomacy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met last week with his American, Saudi and Turkish counterparts in Vienna to exchange ideas over an end to the conflict in Syria. Another meeting is expected this Friday. In a rare trip, President Bashar Assad himself traveled to Moscow last week, in his first visit out of the country since the war began in 2011. On Monday, Assad met the visiting foreign minister of Oman. After the meeting, the Syrian presidency's Facebook page said Assad thanked Oman for its efforts to help the Syrians "realize their aspirations in a way that will put an end to their suffering from terrorism and maintain the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Oman had previously been reported as attempting to broker a meeting between officials from Syria, Iran and arch-rival Saudi Arabia. --Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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