UN warns of 'bloodbath' as Syria fighting escalates
The United Nations warned on Friday that escalating fighting in northwest Syria could end in a “bloodbath” as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would phone Russia’s president to discuss the quickly deteriorating situation.
In a phone call, Erdogan said attacks in Idlib – where a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive has displaced nearly one million people and brought Ankara, Moscow and Damascus to the brink of confrontation – must be stopped.
Idlib is the final stronghold of rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s government during a nine-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in Idlib, has lost 16 military personnel this month in clashes with Syrian forces. It has bolstered its positions and called for Syrian forces to pull back.
With Ankara threatening an “imminent” operationagainst Syrian forces, Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar inspected troops gathered at the Syrian border on Friday.
Erdogan said he would hold a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin at 15:00 GMT to discuss the deepening conflict.
“During this telephone conversation, we will discuss all the developments in Idlib,” Erdogan told reporters. “Right now the fight goes on with determination. And in these talks today, this call will determine our attitude.”
Some 60 percent of the 900,000 people who have fled their homes but are trapped in a shrinking space are children, the UN’s office for humanitarian coordination spokesman Jens Laerke told a Geneva news briefing.
The “relentless violence” must stop before it degenerates into “what we fear may end in a bloodbath” for civilians, he said.
“In the freezing winter, many people have resorted to burning their spare clothes, pieces of furniture or other materials,” said Laerke.
“The front lines and relentless violence continues to move closer to these areas which are packed with displaced people, with bombardments increasingly affecting displacement sites and their vicinity. We call for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further suffering.”
Russia – al-Assad’s main ally – accused Turkey on Thursday of providing artillery support to rebels fighting Syrian government forces.
Two Turkish soldiers were killed and another five wounded in Syrian government air raids on Thursday in Idlib. More than 50 Syrian forces were killed in retaliation, Turkey’s defence ministry said.
Erdogan said the French and German leaders had proposed to hold a four-way summit with Russia but Putin had not yet responded. He repeated Turkey was not withdrawing its forces from Idlib.
Erdogan also said Turkey was continuing work setting up housing for Syrian migrants in a 30-35km (19-22 mile) “safe zone” in Syria along the border with Turkey.
Ankara and Moscow have accused each other of flouting a 2018 de-escalation agreement that allowed Turkey and Russia to set up observation posts in Idlib.
Turkey has said some of its posts in Idlib were surrounded by Syrian government forces.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies