UN Secretary General António Guterres (pictured) has called on Russia and Turkey on halt fighting in northwest Syria, amid a six-week Russian-regime offensive and bombing and shelling of civilian areas in Idlib and northern Hama Provinces.
Without directly referring to Moscow’s involvement in the May 6 offensive and in airstrikes, Guterres said:
I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib, and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors….
There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political.
Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN’s humanitarian agency, noted that some hospitals were not sharing their locations because that “paints a target on their back”.
Russia and the regime have attacked almost 30 medical facilities since April 28. Medical staff and NGOs said some of the damaged or destroyed centers had shared coordinates through the UN, but had still been struck by Russia and/or the regime.
Lowcock told the Security Council later on Tuesday that the World Health Organization has confirmed 26 incidents affecting health care facilities since late April. He said all but two were in opposition-controlled areas.
Hitting a facility whose coordinates were shared as part of the UN’s deconfliction system is simply intolerable. A number of partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates to be given to the warring parties effectively paints a target on their backs.
Some have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people.
Lowcock said the UN is reconsidering the deconfliction system and will inform the Security Council next week of conclusions.
Both Russia and the Assad regime derided the information on hospital attacks.
“We decisively reject any accusation of indiscriminate strikes. We’re not carrying out attacks on civilians,” said Russia Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.
The Assad regime’s ambassador Bashar Ja’afari maintained, “Syrians and allies do not target schools or hospitals.”
Russia and Turkey, alongside Iran, are formally guarantors of northwest Syria, but the Russian-regime offensive shattered a demilitarized zone declared by Moscow and Ankara last September.
With the Assad regime attacking Turkish observation posts on several occasions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned last Friday:
If the regime attacks more Turkish observation points and continues to take such missteps, we cannot remain silent. We want deaths to stop in Syria, the bombing of Idlib with barrel and phosphorus bombs is inexcusable.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey is “working with Russia” on a ceasefire: “Russia needs to fulfill its responsibility here.”
But Moscow, which declared a ceasefire last Thursday only for the Assad regime to continue its attacks, including two on Turkish positions, has been silent about Ankara’s warnings.
The offensive quickly took several towns and villages in northwest Hama Province, but was then checked by the rebels and the Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
A rebel counter-offensive two weeks ago regained some of the lost territory, exposing the limits of Russian airstrikes in backing the regime forces.
Meanwhile, Russian and regime bombardment has killed about 325 civilians, injured hundreds, and added to the displacement of more than 300,000 people since September.
An estimated 3 million people — about 20% of Syria’s remaining population — live in Idlib and northern Hama.