UN warns Russia, Iran, Turkey over imminent Idlib offensive
GENEVA / MOSCOW
The United Nations has called on guarantor powers Russia, Iran, and Turkey to forestall a battle in Syria’s Idlib province, saying a humanitarian corridor should be set up to allow civilians to leave the area.
“Russia, Iran, and Turkey should take more time to try to avert massive military escalation in Idlib,” U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was quoted as saying by Reuters while speaking to reporters in Geneva on Aug. 30.
A potential “perfect storm” is looming over Idlib, with possible military implications beyond the region, de Mistura also said.
Around three million people are believed to reside in Idlib now, out of which “10,000 are al-Nusra and al-Qaeda terrorists,” according de Mistura.
“The estimated number of the al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, whatever name they want to call themselves, are more or less around 10,000 of them plus families,” de Mistura said, adding that these groups “need to be defeated.”
De Mistura has been tasked with setting up a committee to write a new constitution for the war-ravaged Syria. As part of efforts on forming Syria’s Constitutional Committee, de Mistura previously invited Iran, Russia and Turkey to talks due to be held in Geneva on Sept. 11-12.
The main foreign powers backing the project are Syrian government allies Russia and Iran, as well as Turkey, which supports some opposition groups.
De Mistura’s previous efforts to negotiate an end to the Syrian conflict have achieved no breakthroughs.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Moscow contacts Ankara, Tehran, Washington
Russia has said in separate statements that Moscow was in contact with Turkey, Iran and the United Sates on the situation in Syria’s Idlib province.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference on Aug. 29 that there is “full political understanding” between Russia and Turkey on the need to distinguish between the Syrian opposition and people he described as “terrorists” in Idlib province.
“It is necessary to disassociate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists and at the same time prepare an operation against them while minimizing risks for the civilian population,” Lavrov said at a press conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir in Moscow.
“This festering abscess needs to be liquidated,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Russian News Agency (RIA) cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying on Aug. 29 that Russia was discussing the situation in Idlib and in Syria’s Afrin region with Iran and Turkey, as well as the Syrian government and opposition.
Bogdanov has discussed options for a peace settlement in Syria with Syrian opposition leader Nasra al-Hariri, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Aug. 30.
The ministry said it stressed the need to establish dialogue between the Syrian government and the “constructive” opposition.
As for the United States, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said on Aug. 30 he had told U.S. officials earlier this week that Moscow is concerned over signs that the U.S. is preparing new strikes on Syria and warned against “groundless and illegal aggression against Syria.”
Antonov met this week with United States officials, including U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement in Turkey James Jeffrey, the Russia Embassy said in a post on its Facebook page.