EU calls on Turkey, Russia, Iran to protect civilians under siege in Idlib

The European Union on Wednesday called for a ceasefire in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and urged Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Syrian government to protect civilians under siege, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Over 180, 000 civilians have left Idlib province and 160 were killed as a fierce battle erupted between Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Damascus regime with its ally Russian forces in the past three weeks.

The Syrian regime and Russia have further intensified their assault over the last few days, according to Arab News. 

“We expect the Syrian regime and the Astana guarantors to fulfil immediately their responsibilities and commitments, and ensure the immediate protection of civilians,” EU’s High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and its Humanitarian Aid Chief Christos Stylianides said, referring to Turkey, Russia and Iran’s peace efforts.

The top EU officials added that “Indiscriminate attacks on women and children and other civilians, their displacement, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure cannot be justified under any circumstances.”

The Syrian government has said it is responding to attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants in Idlib province, the Syrian opposition’s last stronghold.

Home to an estimated 3 million people, roughly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country, Idlib has been partly shielded by a truce agreement since last year, brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Ankara and Moscow  signed an agreement to prevent an attack on Idlib last September, stipulating that Turkey would undertake to clear “extremist” groups, namely HTS, from the province. HTS however,  has since gained further dominance in the province, launching offensives in neighbouring provinces. 

Much of the recent fighting over the past few weeks has hit a buffer zone agreed under Turkey-Russia deal.

The UN Security Council also weighed in on Idlib on Wednesday, unanimously agreeing that humanitarian law should be respected while combating terrorism in the  province.