UN reiterates Idlib concerns after cease-fire breaks down

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published 08.08.2019 00:33

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the United Nations secretary-general, on Monday, indicated again the U.N.'s concerns on airstrikes that have been exacerbating the humanitarian situation in northwestern Syria.

"Again, we remind all parties to the conflict, and those who have influence over them, of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure," Dujarric said in a briefing of the current highlights on Monday, drawing attention to the recurring humanitarian tragedies. On Aug. 1, Damascus announced a cease-fire in the de-escalation zone Idlib when the three guarantor countries, Turkey, Russia and Iran, met for the 13th gathering of the Astana process in the Kazakh capital Nursultan. The truce was established on the condition that a Turkish-Russian buffer zone deal was implemented. However, when the Assad regime launched airstrikes against the Idlib region under the pretext that opposition groups targeted an airbase of its ally Russia on Monday, the cease-fire ended. The Syrian regime struck the Khan Sheikhun district in Idlib's de-escalation zone, Kafr Zita in northern rural Hama, and nearby districts with mortars and cannons.

Dujarric warned the warring parties in the region following an attack on Tuesday that claimed the lives of four civilians across northern Hama, southern Idlib and western Aleppo governorates. It was also announced that since the upsurge in violence at the end of April, more than 500 civilians had been killed and 400,000 displaced.

Previously, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned the U.N. Security Council that if the attacks continue, this could be the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. "The carnage must stop," he said.

Despite constant warnings and efforts to end the humanitarian crisis in the area, the Assad regime still continues to carry out acts of violence, affecting civilians, civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals and markets. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the White Helmets and the Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) do their utmost to help those in need, yet it will not end the crisis until Russia and the Syrian Regime abide by the Sochi Agreement.

The regime-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said yesterday that troops captured the village Arbaeen the night before to get closer to Kafr Zita, which is a key point for Idlib, following intense clashes with al-Qaida-linked militants.

Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached the Sochi agreement on Sept. 17. According to the agreement the cease-fire in the Idlib region was to be preserved with the withdrawal of heavy arms and radicals from the region. The first meeting of the Astana process was held in Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

This month, after technical talks in Nursultan, the trilateral meeting will take place in Turkey where the latest developments will be discussed. The main topics on the agenda will be developments in Idlib, the "Peace Corridor" to be established along the Turkey-Syria border and Syria's political transition process. Besides, significant matters such as cooperation against terrorism, humanitarian aid and works in progress for a constitutional committee in Syria will be discussed.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced that it was documented that the Assad regime uses humanitarian aid as a financial weapon. The documents were obtained and analyzed by the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC), a Syrian human rights organization. It also stated that in the internal correspondence of the regime's intelligence, orders saying, "no aid will be delivered to opposition-held areas" were found. The orders make it clear that the decision to restrict access was based on political considerations rather than security or humanitarian needs.

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