The Associated Press UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Turkey urged the international community on Tuesday “to vocally and actively support” Turkish calls for a ceasefire in Syria’s last rebel-held stronghold in neighboring Idlib Province, where Syria and its allies have intensified attacks ahead of an expected offensive.
Turkey’s Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu made the appeal after telling the U.N. Security Council that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad’s regime seeks to legitimize its military operation in Idlib on the grounds that it’s fighting terrorism.
He warned that such an offensive would only “create further suffering, alienate and radicalize more Syrians” and “play into the hands of terrorists.” He also warned that “an all-out military operation would result in a major humanitarian catastrophe” and “trigger a massive wave of refugees and tremendous security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond.”
That warning was echoed later by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres who said a full-scale battle in Idlib “would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the blood-soaked Syrian conflict.”
The U.N. chief said it is especially important that Iran, Russia and Syria — the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria — “find a way in which it is possible to isolate terrorist groups and ... create a situation in which civilians will not be the price paid to solve the problem in Idlib.”
Idlib is the last refuge for the Syrian opposition and home to close to 3 million people, including 1.4 million displaced Syrians hailing from provinces now controlled by the government and close to 1 million children. Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have been massing troops for weeks around Idlib in preparation for an attack.
Vassily Nebenzia was briefing the council on last Friday’s summit of the presidents of the three Astana countries in Tehran, stressing that they are committed “to continue helping with a definitive elimination of terrorism in Syria.”
Turkey’s Sinirlioglu, whose country supports the Syrian opposition, countered that “only a viable ceasefire would allow the creation of an environment to effectively fight terrorism.”
He said this requires time and patience and is what Turkey has been trying to achieve in its separation efforts in Idlib.
“In order for our efforts to succeed, guarantees must be given to civilians and moderate opposition groups that they will not be targeted once they separate from terrorists,” Sinirlioglu said.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump administration hasn’t seen “any actions to indicate that Russia, Iran and Assad are interested in a political solution.”
“All we’ve seen are the actions of cowards interested in a bloody military conquest of Idlib,” she said, citing a military escalation in Idlib this month including over 100 Russian and Syrian airstrikes.