Syria’s defeated rebels have for years been allowed to escape to the northern territory of Idlib under a deal with the government – but now this too is under threat of attack from President Bashar al Assad.

Our special correspondent Alex Crawford was given special access to Idlib province as fighters prepare for their last stand after years of shrinking territory.

They call this Free Syria but armed checkpoints are scattered throughout Idlib.

There are a dozen different rebel factions operating here and many don’t like cameras.

Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) is in control of much of Idlib – an alliance of jihadists who insist they are no longer linked to al Qaeda.

They have a strict code of conduct and I’m told to dress accordingly.

We spot several black signs telling women they should be veiled, and others banning smoking.

A few miles away, a group of men are accused of being IS bombers and a picture by the HTS media wing shows the six saying their final prayers.

The next picture is taken after the shooting.

Islamic State is still operating in parts of this area but the rebels are now focused on one last big battle.

They are building their defences with diggers and by hand, constructing sandbags and trenches.

This is their last stand against the Syrian regime led by Bashar al Assad and after seven years of fighting Idlib is the last province still holding out.

We’re going to be much better prepared than they expect, says one man shown in an HTS film.

Another warns: We’ll hit him in a way he’s never experienced before.

The civilians are not at all convinced.

They have been living under these conditions, some of them for years, moving from place to place, fleeing from bombing and shelling, trying to get to safety.

This is the last rebel holdout and now it is under threat. The regime wants Idlib under its control and those in the middle are terrified.

One family of 16 we met has moved four times already: We are afraid. We are afraid of everything, one of them tells me.

We don’t know what to do with the children or where to go for safety, her sister says.

The population here has roughly doubled to nearly three million with all the displaced people. They struggle under tents with few facilities and many have never known any other life than war.

Just the word regime terrifies us because they kill children and women – no one cares about whats happening to us, says Mohammed al Jaseem

The clinic that we saw serves 90,000 people, many of whom have lost relatives or bear the scars of war, and the doctors are too scared to show their faces on camera.

We are living in a prison, says one. No water, no electricity, things are very difficult.

The UN and human rights groups have warned of an humanitarian disaster if the regime tries to take Idlib by force – the people sheltering here can only await their fate.
(c) Sky News 2018: Syrian rebels’ last stand as Assad forces close in