By Arab News
Military operations in northwest Syria have caused “unacceptable” human suffering and “massive waves of civilian displacement and major loss of civilian life,” the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen told the Security Council on Thursday.
Hundreds of civilians have died and over half a million people have been displaced from their homes as fighting has intensified between Damascus and armed groups in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib in recent months.
Airstrikes and ground operations in Idlib by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces, Turkish forces and various militant groups have all contributed to creating a nightmare scenario, Pedersen said, with over half a million people displaced by violence in just two months.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund announced that it was releasing an additional $30 million in aid to help ease the crisis.
Pedersen said he could see no military solution to the situation on the ground, and if UN resolution 2245 —calling for a “nationwide ceasefire” — is not implemented, the region will descend into a “bloody and protracted last stand on the Turkish border, with grave consequences for civilians.”
The UN’s Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sir Mark Lowcock also addressed the Security Council, describing the situation in Idlib as a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Sir Mark, who is also the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, said civilians are in urgent need of assistance with so many being forced to flee in the depths of winter, and hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to provide basic things such as tents, plastic sheets, fuel, stoves and warm clothes.
“We have seen chaotic pictures in town after town as vehicles line up in every direction trying to flee. People who have just moved cannot find adequate shelter,” he added.
“Tens of thousands are crammed into schools, mosques and unfinished buildings. Many others are in tents in the mud, exposed to wind, rain and freezing weather. What we have been warning you about is happening.”
The EU also called for an end to bombings in Syria, as well as the opening of a humanitarian corridor from Idlib to allow civilians to flee, as regime forces continue to advance on the rebel stronghold.
“Bombings and other attacks on civilians in northwest Syria must stop,” said the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell.
In a statement released jointly with European Emergency Response Coordinator Janez Lenarcic, Borrell said the EU stands ready to provide assistance to internally displaced Syrians facing “extraordinary human suffering.”
The statement also demanded “unimpeded” humanitarian access, respect for “humanitarian law” and the protection of Idlib’s civilian population.
The Syrian conflict is thought to have claimed the lives of almost 400,000 people since its outbreak, sparked by a civil uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011.
More than half the civilian population is said to have fled the country as a result of the war, with many residing in neighboring Arab states and Turkey.
On Wednesday, regime forces backed by Russian warplanes entered the town of Saraqib, 15 km east of the city of Idlib.