The UN on Tuesday said that “a humanitarian disaster” is unfolding in Syria’s last rebel-held territory where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have launched an offensive, ending a ceasefire negotiated by Turkey and Russia in September last year.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council that since Syrian troops began pushing into Idlib on April 30 an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and more than 230 civilians have died.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey to stabilize the situation in Idlib, home to more than 3 million people, “without delay.”
He called the situation “especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors,” and said civilians are again “paying a horrific price.”
UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told that council that for Syria’s close ally Russia, the presence in Idlib of radicals from the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) “is not tolerable” and “for Turkey, time is required to effectively isolate and address HTS’ most hardline fighters.”
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said the September last year memorandum with Turkey “is being fully implemented,” telling council members it “doesn’t ban, but rather encourages the fight against terrorism.”
He said that all military activities are in response “to provocations from terrorists,” saying HTS controls 99 percent of the Idlib de-escalation zone.
“We think that the issue is not that it’s a humanitarian catastrophe,” Nebenzia said. “It’s clear that the issue is the desire to keep the territories that are not under Damascus’ control for as long as possible regardless of who prevails in them.”
Nebenzia said that Idlib should ultimately return to Syrian government control “and the terrorists there ... will have to be liquidated.”
Lowcock said the WHO has confirmed that 26 healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria have been attacked since late April, and stressed that attacking civilians and civilian installations is a contravention of international law.
“A number of partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates to be given to the warring parties effectively paints a target on their backs,” he said. “Some have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed to terrorize.”
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