UN’s Egeland: “We cannot have a war in Idlib”


Top UN official Jan Egeland has warned of the danger to civilians of a forthcoming pro-Assad offensive on opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Egeland also criticized forced removals, following pro-Assad assaults that have forced capitulation agreements in East Ghouta near Damascus, in an enclave south of the capital, and in an opposition pocket in northern Homs Province.

Syria Daily, May 3: Capitulation Agreement for Forced Removals from Northern Homs

Egeland, who oversees humanitarian operations in Syria, told reporters on Thursday, “We cannot have a war in Idlib. I keep saying that now to Russia, to Iran, to Turkey, to the United States, to anyone that can have an influence.”

He called for negotiations to protect civilians, saying that recent airstrikes by Russia and the Assad regime are a bad omen.

There are an estimated 2.5 million people in Idlib, almost all of which was taken by the opposition in April 2015. Many of them are civilians displaced from other parts of Syria, including the recent pro-Assad assaults on East Ghouta and northern Homs.

Pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russian airstrikes, took part of southeast Idlib during the winter. However, in late January they redeployed for the reoccupation of East Ghouta.

Intervention by Turkish forces in northern Syria alongside rebels has offered some protection for the opposition areas of Idlib, with the Turks setting up observation posts around an area which also includes parts of western Aleppo and northern Hama Provinces.

But the Assad regime has pledged to recapture all of the province, pressing Russia to provide the airstrikes necessary for any advance.

Since late January, Russia and the regime have periodically carried out bombing of civilian areas in the province.

“The System Doesn’t Work”

Commenting on the capitulation agreements, Egeland said it would have been better to leave civilians in their home areas, as Idlib is already “full to the brim” with displaced people living in the open, in congested camps, and in crowded collective centers.

“They arrive at 2 a.m. every night now, just to find they can hardly get a bed,” he said.

Egeland noted that about two million Syrians are still under siege.

“If there is no accountability, the system doesn’t work. [But] I’m refusing to give up,” the official concluded.

Further Strain After 158,000 Forced Out of East Ghouta

The UN agency for humanitarian affairs reports on the further burden on camps because of those forcibly removed from the East Ghouta area by the pro-Assad assault:

A total of 158,000 people were moved out of East Ghouta. The OCHA notes:

There is also a need to scale up assistance to IDPs that have left the sites and are residing in host communities, in additon to a need for information on their movement and location.

Humanitarian assistance to IDPs sites has been scaled up; however, a number of protection concerns remain related to freedom of movement, family separation, presence of unaccompanied and separated children, lack of civil documentation and concerns for women and girls, including risks of forms of gender-based violence.

The agency estimates that 120,000 people remain in East Ghouta, with only limited assistance through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and “restricted access” for the UN and its partners.

Israel to Russia: We Helped You Over Sanctions, So No Confrontation in Syria

Israel has called on Russia to avoid any confrontation over the Syrian conflict, reminding Moscow that it has not joined Western sanctions against the Russians.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Thursday, in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant:

We value these relations with Russia.

Even when our close partners pressured us, as in the case of sanctions against Russia, we did not join them.

Referring to Western measures against Russia over its seizure of Crimea and its suspected nerve agent assassination attempt in southern England, Liberman said:

A lot of countries have recently expelled Russian diplomats. Israel did not join in this action.

We take Russia’s interests into account and we hope that Russia will take into account our interests, here in the Middle East. We expect Russia’s understanding and support when it comes to our vital interests.

Israel and Russia established a working relationship over Syria in 2015, amid the Russian military intervention for the survival of the Assad regime, with meetings between Israeii Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, the Assad regime’s possible offensive against opposition areas in southern Syria, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, could unsettle the arrangements.

Israel has warned against any expansion of the military presence of Iran and Hezbollah, especially near the Golan demilitarized zone; however, any pro-Assad offensive will need Iranian-led militias and Hezbollah fighters for success.

See An Impending War Between Israel and Iran in Syria?