Turkey says Syrian government is violating ceasefire in Idlib

Turkey on Friday accused the Syrian government forces of violating a ceasefire agreement reached with Russia for Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, Reuters reported

According to a deal Ankara and Moscow struck in mid-September, Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone and remove extremist fighters such as those belonging to al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to prevent attacks on Syrian government forces and infrastructure.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces have launched an offensive on Idlib in recent weeks due to surge in violence in the enclave. 

“The regime is not keeping its promises of a ceasefire despite the agreement and is violating the ceasefire,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

Akar said the escalation of violence could lead to a humanitarian tragedy. 

“The Sochi agreement requires a ceasefire and that is what we want from the Russians. Meetings in Ankara are continuing right now,” the minister said referring to a Turkish-Russian working group meeting in Ankara on Syria. 

The working group was formed after the leaders of Turkey and Russia spoke on the phone on Tuesday to discuss ways to calm the recent escalation in Idlib, Anadolu Agency said. 

Turkey's UN ambassador on Friday expressed Ankara’s concerns  for a possible major humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib at a UN Security Council, meeting Anadolu Agency reported.

Feridun Sinirlioğlu said that significant increase in cease-fire violations in Idlib, over 600 since late April, were deeply alarming.

"We are faced with a disaster in the making," Anadolu quoted Sinirlioğlu as saying. "The recent aggression of the regime might displace additional hundreds of thousands of people. It carries serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond.

According to the UN, about half of Idlib’s 3 million residents are internally displaced. The Syria-Turkey border is closed with a wall, but hundreds of thousands of IDPs have been piling up nearby in informal camps.

The United Nations said on Friday at least 18 health centres have been attacked in the past three weeks in northwestern Syria, Reuters reported. Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen accused Russia and Syria of the attacks on the health centres.