UN Urges De-Escalation of Military Crisis in Idlib

A senior U.N. official is appealing to Russia and Turkey as guarantors of a de-escalation agreement in Syria’s Idlib province to prevent a further intensification of fighting in this rebel-held enclave, Voice of America reported.

More than three million civilians live in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib. Most are trapped in the enclave with nowhere to go in the event of a full-fledged war between Russian-backed Syrian forces and rebels.

A 2018 de-escalation zone agreement mediated by Russia, Turkey, and Iran succeeded in maintaining an uneasy peace in this volatile area, but the lull appears to be breaking down.

U.N. Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi said the United Nations has been receiving troubling reports during the past few weeks of increased military activity and attacks in Idlib.

Rochdi said 106,000 people have fled their homes since February and at least 190 people have been killed as a direct result of increased fighting.

“We have a regional plan for up to 900,000 people who could be affected in northwestern Syria if limited military action takes place. But many more people will be affected. Any large-scale military offensive in the northwest will put thousands of lives at risk and affect an even larger number of people and very likely overwhelm our humanitarian partners,” she said.

Rochdi said recent talks by Russia and Turkey regarding the resumption of patrols in the area give her some hope a devastating conflict might be averted.

Rochdi also said another area of great concern is the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Al Hol camp in al-Hasakah governorate in northeast Syria. She said the camp’s population exceeds 73,000 in an area originally intended for 41,000 people.

Most of those arriving in the camp have fled the Islamic State group’s last stronghold in Deir ez-Zor Governorate. Rochdi said 92 percent of the camp inhabitants are women, children and the elderly. She said there are no males over the age of 15, VoA added.

Rochdi said people are extremely vulnerable and most who arrive in Al Hol are malnourished and suffering from a wide range of health problems. She said referral hospitals are overwhelmed and cannot accept any more patients. Other pressing needs, she said include shelter, water and sanitation and hygiene.

Meanwhile, efforts to forge a political deal between Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria and the Syrian government are at a standstill and President Bashar-al Assad’s ally Russia is to blame, a Syrian Kurdish official said.

The Kurdish-led authorities revived efforts to negotiate a deal with Damascus earlier this year in the wake of a U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from their areas, hoping Moscow would mediate an agreement that would preserve their autonomy.

The picture has shifted significantly since then, however, with Washington deciding to keep some troops in Syria and the Syrian government directing new threats of military action at Kurdish-led forces if they do not submit to its rule.

Badran Jia Kurd, a Syrian Kurdish official involved in the political track, said the talks had gone nowhere. “The Russians froze the initiative which Russia was supposed to carry out and it did not begin negotiations with Damascus,” he said.

“Russia is still claiming that it is working on that initiative but to no avail,” Reuters informed.

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