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UN Chief Calls for Immediate Cease-Fire in Syria's Idlib

FILE - An internally displaced man who fled from Idlib rolls a cigarette as he rides on a pickup truck with belongings in Azaz, Syria, Feb. 15, 2020.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Friday for an immediate cease-fire in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib to end a humanitarian crisis “and avoid an uncontrollable escalation” in the area.

Guterres told reporters in New York that Russian-supported Syrian military campaigns waged in the area for nearly a year had been compounded by “repeated deadly clashes between Turkish and Syrian government forces.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Russian-backed offensive were being packed into increasingly smaller areas near Turkey’s border “under horrendous conditions,” a scenario confirmed Friday by Guterres.

“Nearly 900,000 people — the vast majority women and children — have fled in the latest fighting under the most tragic circumstances,” Guterres said. "Hundreds have been killed. Many have been uprooted multiple times. Young children are freezing to death.”

2.8 million in need

Guterres said about 2.8 million people in the Idlib region needed humanitarian aid, a much greater number than the 800,000 the U.N. thought earlier would need assistance.

The crisis has forced the U.N. to appeal for an additional $500 million “to cover the needs of the newly displaced people over the next six months.”

The United States, Germany, Britain and other countries have emphasized that negotiations among Syrian allies Russia and Iran and opposition supporter Turkey have been ineffective.

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen told the council that since the talks were not working, “it’s time also for the secretary-general … to step up to the plate.”

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told the council, “The clearest path we see to an immediate end to violence in northwest Syria is for the U.N. to take full charge of a new cease-fire initiative.”

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the Syrian government’s violence in Idlib.