European foreign ministers demand Syria gov’t, Russia return to 2018 Idlib ceasefire deal

Foreign ministers from 14 European countries, including Germany and France, called on Wednesday for Syrian government forces and their Russian backers to end their offensive in the last-rebel held province of Idlib and return to the terms of a 2018 ceasefire deal.

The call arrives as almost 1 million people have been displaced since December, when Moscow-backed Syrian forces launched a campaign against Turkish-backed rebels to recapture the last major insurgent-held region of the war-torn country.

“We call on the Syrian regime and its supporters, especially the Russians, to end this offensive and return to the ceasefire arrangements of autumn 2018,” the ministers said in a column published in French newspaper Le Monde.

“We call on them to immediately end hostilities and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the protection of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, who pay with their lives for their engagement in favor of civilian population,” the column said. 

The article whose signatories included, among others, the foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Denmark and Sweden, called on Russia to “continue negotiations with Turkey, in order to achieve a de-escalation in Idlib and to contribute to a political solution”.

Russia and Turkey signed a deal in Sochi in September 2018, in which both countries agreed that Idlib would remain a war-free zone in Syria. But Russia accuses Turkey of reneging on the agreement by failing to contain and disarm Islamist militants that it labels as terrorists.

Syrian forces intensified their assault in January and advanced to areas where Turkey has observation posts built under the 2018 deal. Turkey has threatened to launch a full-scale operation in Idlib, unless Syrian troops withdraw from areas beyond Turkish observation posts by the end of this month.