Syria appears to be rejecting urgent calls to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in its northern Idlib enclave, the country's last rebel-held area. Despite appeals by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the government says it is determined to do whatever it takes to root out “terrorists.”
Military attacks by Syria and its Russian ally against Idlib have been increasing in frequency and intensity during the past weeks.
The United Nations reports dozens of people, including women and children, have been killed and wounded, and several hospitals and schools have been attacked and taken out of service.
The United Nations warns an offensive to retake Idlib, where nearly three million civilians reside, would trigger the biggest massacre of this century.
In a presentation to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Commission of Inquiry on Syria Chairman Paulo Pinheiro notes unlike previous battles in Dara'a or eastern Ghouta civilians in Idlib have nowhere left to flee. War in Idlib, he says, would generate a humanitarian catastrophe.
“We call on all parties to urge restraint, to prioritize meaningful political dialogue, and to refrain from embarking on such a tragic repetition,” Pinheiro said. “To spare the civilian population in Idlib, parties must come to the table and engage in genuine and constructive political dialogue.”
In response, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Hussam Edin Aala, said his government respects all rules of international humanitarian law and has taken all necessary measures to protect civilians during operations to liberate areas from terrorist groups.
“Regarding Idlib province, the Syrian state is determined to liberate Idlib from terrorist entities and organizations, namely the al-Nusra front, classified by the Security Council as a terrorist entity,” Aala said. “We are also determined to recover the state’s sovereignty.”
The United Nations estimates about 10,000 rebels are intertwined among the civilians. The commission says risking the lives of so many innocent people in a battle to defeat a relative handful of armed fighters is too high a price to pay.