Fri, 19 Jul 2019

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has called on Russia and Turkey to stabilize Syria's rebel-held Idlib Province, which he says is suffering 'a humanitarian disaster.'

'I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib, and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors,' Guterres told reporters on June 18 as he appealed to Moscow and Ankara 'to stabilize the situation without delay.'

Russia, Syria's main ally, and Turkey, which has backed anti-government rebels in the eight-year civil war, last year cosponsored a de-escalation agreement for the area in northwest Syria.

But the deal has failed to hold, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee Idlib, where the last remaining anti-government rebels are holding out against a Syrian government military offensive.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that since Syrian troops began an offensive in Idlib on April 30, an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and more than 230 civilians have died.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said a September memorandum with Turkey 'is being fully implemented' and told Council members it 'doesn't ban but rather encourages the fight against terrorism.'

He said all military activities are in response 'to provocations from terrorists.'

'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's control for as long as possible regardless of who prevails in them.'

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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