Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the international community to prevent a Syrian government offensive in Syria’s Idlib, as the United Nations says it fears the century’s “worst humanitarian catastrophe” there.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday, Erdogan echoed the UN’s concerns about a potential humanitarian crisis, adding that an attack on the last rebel-held province would affect Turkey, Europe and beyond.
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“Not only innocent Syrians, but the entire world stands to pay the price [otherwise],” he said.
Erdogan, who met with his Russian and Iranian counterparts at a summit in Tehran last week, also said Russia and Iran had a responsibility to stop a potential humanitarian disaster in Idlib.
Rebel-held Idlib province and the adjacent rural areas have been worn down by a succession of government victories in recent months.
President Bashar al-Assad has now set his sights on Idlib and his forces have stepped up bombardment of the densely populated province since the beginning of the month.
The UN’s warning on the issue came from the international organisation’s humanitarian coordination agency (OCHA) on Monday.
“We’re deeply concerned about this recent escalation of violence, which has resulted in the displacement of over 30,000 in the area. That’s something we’re monitoring very closely,” OCHA spokesman David Swanson told reporters.
Russia and Iran, which support Assad’s government, and Turkey, which backs certain opposition groups, have been in close cooperation for the last 1.5 years, hoping to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.
Various so-called “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including Idlib, were agreed among the three guarantor powers as a result of multiple rounds of talks.
Russia and Iran want to eliminate what they call “terrorist groups” in the province, which neighbours Turkey. Ankara wants to disarm these groups while keeping the peace in Idlib.
Last week’s summit in Tehran between the three sides did not produce any agreement, as Iran and Russia rejected Turkey’s call for a continued ceasefire in the rebel bastion.
Delegations from the three countries will be in Geneva on Tuesday to meet the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura.
Turkey, which fears that hundreds of thousands of new refugees will flow to its borders, already hosts over three million refugees.
The UN has said as many as 800,000 people could be displaced by a regime assault on Idlib and surrounding areas.
Over two million people live in the zone now, hundreds of thousands of them already displaced by the brutal seven-year war and others heavily dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.