UN envoy warns Syria’s Idlib is ‘big new challenge’

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warns that the rebel-held region of Idlib could be the next humanitarian disaster in Syria as Damascus tries to re-assert control
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday urged the international community to prevent a fresh humanitarian disaster in the rebel-held region of Idlib, the likely next target of the regime’s fightback.

Mistura told a donor meeting in Brussels that Idlib risked suffering the same fate as Aleppo, seized in a Russian-backed Syrian offensive in 2016, and Eastern Ghouta, retaken by the regime shortly after an alleged chemical attack in early April.

“We were and are concerned on the humanitarian side by Idlib. Because Idlib is the big new challenge, 2.5 million people,” Mistura told a press conference with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.

“And you will not believe that all of them are terrorists of course. There are women, children, civilians, and this is looming up there,” he added.

“So we hope that this would be an occasion for making sure that Idlib does not become the new new Aleppo, the new Eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different,” Mistura added. 

The EU and UN on Tuesday began a two-day push to drum up fresh aid pledges for war-torn Syria and reinvigorate the faltering Geneva peace process as the conflict enters its eighth year.

The meeting comes in the wake of strikes by the United States, France and Britain on Syrian military installations in response to the alleged chemical weapons incident in Douma which has been widely blamed on Damascus.

Mistura said a UN Security Council retreat in a secluded farmhouse in Sweden at the weeken called in a bid to overcome its paralysis on Syria had lowered the “temperature” but failed to find a political solution.

“After two weeks of terribly tense and rhetorically intense meetings, there was a need again to bring down the temperature,” Mistura said.

“Has this avoided or completely resolved the division which exists in the Security Council on Syria, which is the biggest problem the UN has… no,” he added.

“Has the atmosphere gone down and the understanding that there are common issues that can be faced together, yes,”

Mogherini and de Mistura both called on Russia, Iran and Turkey — the three powers involved in the so-called Astana process seeking peace in Syria — to do more to reach a ceasefire. 

“The main message is that Syria is not a chessboard, it’s not geopolitical game,” former Italian foreign minister Mogherini told the news conference.

“I believe they (the three Astana process countries) have not only a responsibility but also an interest in making the ceasefire work.”

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