Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Idlib offensive could spark 21st century's worst humanitarian catastrophe, United Nations says

Erdoğan says Idlib assault would be ‘a grave massacre Attack on Idlib could lead to worst loss of life this century: UN official
Ebony Burgess | 15 September, 2018, 15:55

More than half of Idlib province is held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and Turkey has warned a government offensive could scatter thousands of foreign jihadists overseas, posing a security threat to the West.

Turkey is appealing for a ceasefire to allow for negotiations on the fate of armed groups in Idlib, Syria's last major rebel stronghold, but its call has been rejected by Russian Federation and Iran.

"Fighting terrorism does not absolve warring parties of their core obligations under worldwide law", said Guterres, who directly appealed to Iran, Russia and Turkey to spare no effort to protect civilians, "preserve basic services such as hospitals, ensure full respect for global humanitarian law".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met in Tehran on Friday to discuss the conflict in Syria, but failed to agree on a strategy to protect Idlib's civilians.

"The consequences of inaction are enormous".

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders warned last week that the US will respond "swiftly and appropriately" should Assad use chemical weapons against the Syrian people, and Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning explained Monday that "the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated by the USA or the coalition".

Russian Federation and Iran insisted that a military offensive in Idlib would be a counter-terrorism operation and that measures will be taken to spare civilians.

Idlib is home to some three million people - about half of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country during the war, now in its eighth year, according to the UN.

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Many joined the Islamic State group but others stuck by Al-Qaeda and its former Syrian affiliate - which now leads the powerful Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance dominating Idlib.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for "a more comprehensive worldwide counterterrorism operation", one that would include Syrian rebels he characterized as moderate.

Idlib, the last rebel held enclave in Syria, faces "the worst humanitarian catastrophe" of the century, the United Nations warned on Monday.

The UN warned Monday at least 30,000 residents in Idlib have been displaced in the first nine days this month amid the Russian and regime air campaign there. State news agency SANA reported heavy clashes with IS in the area, adding that government aircraft and artillery "targeted hideouts and positions" held by the group.

There are now around three million people in the province, according to United Nations estimates.

"Establishing and making this committee - which is on the agenda thanks to the Astana process - will bring a new dynamism to the political process", he said.

Daesh has lost almost all of the great swathes of territory straddling Iraq and Syria which it seized in 2014, but retains a presence in the vast desert that lies between Damascus and the Iraqi border, and holds a pocket in the Euphrates Valley in the east. Pockets of the province remain under ISIS control.

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