The head of the United Nations on Friday launched a $500 million flash appeal to help some 900,000 people displaced during a ferocious assault by Russian-backed Syrian government forces on northwest Syria.
Addressing reporters in New York, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned of rising tensions in Idlib province, where Syrian government and Turkish forces have repeatedly clashed in recent weeks in a worrying escalation of the conflict.
“The fighting is now advancing into areas with the highest concentrations of people – including the displaced – and threatening to strangle humanitarian lifelines,” said Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister.
“We are revising our plans and issuing an urgent appeal to donors for an additional $500 million to cover the needs of the newly displaced people over the next six months.”
Guterres described miserable “human suffering” in northwestern Syria — the last rebel held bastion in the country’s nearly nine-year civil war — where some 2.8 million people need food, water, medicine and other aid.
“For almost a year we have seen a series of Syrian government ground offensives supported by Russian airstrikes. This month there have been repeated deadly clashes between Turkish and Syrian Government forces,” added the UN chief.
“I have repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire in Idlib to end the humanitarian catastrophe and now also to avoid an uncontrollable escalation.”
Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s war, but have nevertheless tried to broker a political deal. Bashar al-Assad’s assault on the northwest has upset this effort, seeing Ankara and Moscow accuse each other of breaking de-escalation deals in the region.
Turkey hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees and has said it cannot absorb a new exodus. Ankara says it will use military power to repel Syrian advances in Idlib and to help tackle the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“The message is clear: There is no military solution to the Syria crisis. The only possible solution remains political,” added Guterres. “This man-made humanitarian nightmare for the long-suffering people of Syria must stop. It must stop now.”
Merkel voices hope for cease-fire in Idlib, Syria
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday renewed her call for an immediate cease-fire in the embattled province of Idlib, Syria and a political solution to the crisis.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels after a meeting with EU leaders, Merkel said she was gravely concerned over the situation in northwestern Syria, and together with French President Emmanuel Macron, held a phone call on Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to bring an end to the fighting there.
“We have insisted that there must be a political solution, and before that, a cease-fire,” Merkel stressed, adding that hundreds of thousands of civilians are now in an extremely difficult situation, amid continued attacks by the Syrian regime forces.
She welcomed today’s telephone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin, and their agreement to continue consultations on Idlib to de-escalate tensions and ensure a cease-fire.
“I can only hope that the situation will improve very quickly,” she said, adding that both Germany and France stand ready to help efforts for a cease-fire and a political solution to the crisis.
Merkel also underlined that together with Macron, they would like to continue four-party talks with Erdogan and Putin on Syria, in the so-called Istanbul format.
Citing Thursday’s joint declaration by EU leaders on the situation in Idlib, she stressed that all the member states are united on this issue.
The declaration sharply criticized the Assad regime and its backers for a recent military offensive and called on all actors to cease hostilities immediately.
Attacks drive wave of refugees
Idlib, near Turkey’s southern border, falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018.
The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the territory where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to about 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.
Some 1 million Idlib refugees have moved towards the Turkish border in recent months, fleeing attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, and causing a desperate humanitarian situation.
Turkey has called for an immediate halt to the attacks on Idlib, and for the cease-fire to be followed, warning that if the attacks do not stop Turkey will take action.__The Nation