Turkey is not alone in its stance against a mounting Syrian regime offensive on Idlib as the country's Western allies show support for its diplomatic struggle on the issue within the international community. The United Kingdom's envoy to the United Nations became the latest diplomat to express support for Ankara, saying on Tuesday that she "strongly" agrees with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, referring to an Op-Ed article the Turkish president penned for the Wall Street Journal.
"We strongly agree with President Erdoğan," Karen Pierce told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.
Erdoğan on Monday said in the Wall Street Journal, "All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense."
"A regime assault [on Idlib] would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond," he wrote.
Idlib, a province now hosting nearly 3.5 million people, was originally home to about 750,000 people. Over the past three years, thousands have been evacuated from different parts of Syria to Idlib, under agreements with the regime, as it was deemed a safe zone.
"As a result of the Syrian civil war, which the United Nations Human Rights Council calls 'the worst man-made disaster since World War II,' millions of innocent people have become refugees or have been internally displaced," Erdoğan said in the op-ed article.
On Monday, United Nations officials said that nearly 30,000 people had already been displaced due to the attacks in Idlib. "As of Sept. 9, some 30,542 people have been displaced from northwestern Syria, moving to different areas across Idlib," David Swanson, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), said to Reuters.
"I am deeply worried over the recent escalation of hostilities in northwestern Syria, resulting in the new displacement, during the past few days, of over 30,000 women, children and men and scores of civilian deaths," Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement on Tuesday. Moumtzis, added that there are currently some 6.2 million internally displaced people inside Syria.
Turkey's Ambassador to the U.N. Feridun Sinirlioğlu called the council "to vocally and actively support" their calls for a cease-fire in Idlib.
Sinirlioğlu made the appeal after telling the U.N. Security Council that Bashar Assad's regime is seeking to legitimize its military operation in Idlib on the grounds that it is fighting terrorism.
He warned that such an offensive would only "create further suffering, [and] alienate and radicalize more Syrians" and "play into the hands of terrorists."
He also warned that "an all-out military operation would result in a major humanitarian catastrophe" and "trigger a massive wave of refugees and tremendous security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond."
Sinirlioğlu countered that "only a viable cease-fire would allow the creation of an environment to effectively fight terrorism." He said this requires time and patience, which is what Turkey has been trying to achieve in its separation efforts in Idlib.
"In order for our efforts to succeed, guarantees must be given to civilians and moderate opposition groups that they will not be targeted once they separate from terrorists," Sinirlioğlu said.
The U.K. envoy said the council faces a choice, between a Syrian regime and Russian "military assault on Idlib in which, as many colleagues have said today, thousands of civilians will die," or "we allow Turkey and opposition groups the support, space and time to separate out the terrorists and tackle them themselves."
During the meeting, the United States' U.N. envoy and council president Nikki Haley also said that the Trump administration hasn't seen "any actions to indicate that Russia, Iran and Assad are interested in a political solution."
"All we've seen are the actions of cowards interested in a bloody military conquest of Idlib," she said, citing a military escalation in Idlib this month including over 100 Russian and Syrian airstrikes.
Highest number of displacements occurred in Syria this yearA U.N. commission also announced yesterday that unprecedented levels of internal displacement took place in Syria this year. In a 24-page report, the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria from January to June.
"In under six months, as pro-regime forces moved to recapture large swathes of territory from armed groups and terrorist organizations, over 1 million Syrian men, women and children were displaced with most now living in dire conditions," said the report.
"Intense fighting took place in Aleppo, northern Homs, Damascus, Rif Damascus, Dara, and Idlib governorates," the report said, noting that actors on the ground failed to take any action to protect civilians.
"Displaced Syrians face myriad hardships and challenges to their livelihoods, including the lack of access to sufficient food, water, medical services, basic sanitation facilities, and adequate accommodation," it added.
The report prepared by the three-member commission further warned against a similar scenario in Idlib "if efforts to reach a negotiated settlement fail."
During Tuesday's meeting U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also appealed to stop a full-scale battle in Idlib. The U.N. chief said it was "absolutely essential" to stop a "bloodbath" battle over the region, which has faced attacks from Syrian government forces and its military ally Russia in recent days. He called on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians, but specifically named the three guarantors of the Astana process: Russia and Iran, who support Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Turkey.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, on the other hand, said yesterday that Europe must remain tolerant to avoid atrocities such as the "impending humanitarian disaster" in Idlib.
Delivering his final State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker said, "Europe must remain a tolerant continent... It will never become a fortress, turning its back on the world."
"Take a look around. What is happening in Idlib in Syria now must be of deep and direct concern to us all. We cannot remain silent in face of this impending humanitarian disaster - which appears now all but inevitable," he said.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel also signaled yesterday that Germany could support U.S.-led retaliatory airstrikes on Syria if the regime would further use chemical weapons against civilians.
Addressing German lawmakers at the parliament, Merkel reaffirmed her government's support for a political solution in Syria but also stressed that Berlin could not remain indifferent to another chemical attack by the Syrian regime. France's foreign minister said yesterday that the indiscriminate bombing by Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria's Idlib region could amount to war crimes.
"The hypothesis of war crimes cannot be excluded ... once one begins to indiscriminately bomb civilian populations and hospitals," Jean-Yves Le Drian was quoted by Reuters.
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