By J Nastranis
The UN has in an emergency session of the Security Council on Syria strongly urged Russia and Turkey “to build on previous agreements to secure a fresh ceasefire” across the war-torn northwest. The meeting was convened on February 28 following the death on the battlefield of dozens of Turkish troops.
According to UN News, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres built on his impassioned call earlier in the day for Syrian Government forces backed by Russia, who are attempting to drive the last opposition forces out of Idlib, backed by Turkish forces, to all “step back from the edge of further escalation”.
Following strikes on Turkish troops inside Syria, the Turkish Ministry of Defence said on February 27 that 33 of its soldiers were killed, and 32 wounded, by strikes it attributed to the Syrian Government.
Mr. Guterres warned of the potential “dramatic impacts” of further direct confrontation. He told the Security Council that the risk of fighting spiralling out of control, “taking into account the volume of the forces that are in Idlib, and around Idlib, is something that cannot be taken lightly”.
The UN’s head of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, followed on from the UN chief’s appeal and recapped the events of the past nine days, driven by the Russian-backed Syrian advance across Idlib, together with a counter-attack in the east by non-state armed groups, which saw the city of Saraqib reportedly retaken.
“This action cut the Syrian Government’s control of the strategic M5 highway. Turkish forces reportedly played a supporting role in this operation,” said Ms. DiCarlo.
Referring to the reported deaths of the Turkish troops, she said Russian defence ministry officials had “confirmed that an unspecified number of Turkish soldiers, who they said were co-located” with opposition fighters “had been hit by Syrian Government shelling”.
Turkey stated that it had targeted Syrian Government positions in response, “with aircraft, weaponized drones and artillery”, Ms. DiCarlo added.
“We strongly urge Russia and Turkey to build upon their previous agreements to secure a ceasefire for northwest Syria,” she said, noting the devastating impact on civilians of the escalation.
Attacks had come from air and ground “seemingly without regard for civilians”, displacing nearly a million, including more than 560,000 children: “They are fleeing north…into ever-shrinking areas where they still hope to find relative safety.”
With the UN human rights office OHCHR verifying at least 1,750 civilian deaths since April, the actual number “is probably higher”, said Ms. DiCarlo, with 94 per cent occurring in opposition-held areas.
However, the Security Council-designated terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has also been responsible for indiscriminate attacks she said: “Civilians are killed in IDP camps, schools and hospitals. This is happening in plain sight, night and day, day in and day out. Hospitals destroyed. Schools destroyed. People’s lives destroyed.”
“And it is all happening under our watch”, she declared to the Security Council.
With an “ever-growing record of destruction and atrocity” in Syria, she noted the countless warnings from the UN that attacks on civilians are simply unacceptable.
“We have reaffirmed to the parties that all military operations must respect the rules of international humanitarian law. If such horrific acts and tactics persist despite global outrage, is it largely because their authors do not fear accountability and justice?”
She concluded by noting that the civilians living in daily terror from the guns, shells and mortar rounds across Syria, were “not asking for a pause in the fighting. They are asking for an end to the killing. We must all assume our responsibility to do all we can to stop this violence.”
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