Nearly one million refugees, half children, have fled to the Turkish border because of the Syrian regime’s offensive. The UN warns that we are witnessing the “greatest humanitarian horror of the 21st century”.
The United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, called for an immediate cease-fire in northwestern Syria – where the Assad regime has been on an offensive since December – to avoid what he called “the greatest story of humanitarian horror of the 21st century. “
Lowcock denounced that “indiscriminate” violence in the region has reached “a new level of horror” and has caused the displacement of 900,000 people – 500,000 of them children – since the Syrian regime launched a major offensive in the region in early December supported by its Russian and Iranian allies, which has allowed it to make great progress against Syrian rebels but at the cost of causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
The displaced “are traumatized and forced to sleep outside with freezing temperatures, because refugee camps are full … Mothers burn plastic to keep their children warm. Babies and young children are dying from the cold” Lowcock explained.
The war escalation in the region has caused bombings against medical facilities, schools, houses, mosques and markets, the UN official said without pointing to any of the parties in the conflict, although the United Nations has repeatedly accused the Syrian regime and Russia of attacking civilian and humanitarian facilities and destroying the already precarious health infrastructure that remains in northwestern Syria.
“The greatest humanitarian horror of the 21st century”
Lowcock warned that the conditions of refugees fleeing the Syrian regime offensive are so precarious that there is a “serious risk” that diseases will spread due to the absence of basic resources and infrastructure. “There is an immense aid operation underway across the border from Turkey, but it has been overcome,” he said, pointing to the magnitude of the tragedy.
“The equipment and facilities used by the emergency forces are being damaged. The humanitarian personnel themselves are being forced to flee and are being killed,” Lowcock said. “The greatest history of humanitarian horror of the 21st century will only be avoided if the members of the Security Council and those who have influence leave their personal interests behind, and put the humanitarian first. The only option is a ceasefire.”
Assad insists on moving forward with the offensive in Aleppo and Idlib
Despite this and other appeals, the Bashar al-Assad regime refuses to end the violence and stop an offensive that, supported by the bombing of Russia, in two months has allowed it to take control of strategic areas in the Aleppo and Idlib provinces, including control of the highway that connects Aleppo with Damascus.
On Monday Assad promised to continue the offensive against the “terrorist groups” once again denying damage to the civilian population. “The liberation of the rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib continues, regardless of some empty voices that come from the North,” the Syrian president said in a televised speech, making a veiled reference to Turkey’s warnings about a possible intervention to curb the humanitarian catastrophe if the regime does not stop its offensive.
The negotiations between Turkey and Russia continue
On Tuesday, a second round of consultations between delegations from Turkey and Russia was scheduled to take place in Moscow to try to reach a ceasefire in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian rebels and where it is estimated that there are about 3 million civilians who could flee to Turkey if the Syrian regime captures the entire region.
The first round held in Ankara last week ended without success. Russia, whose bombings have been vital to achieve the rapid advance of Assad’s forces in this offensive, had dismissed the Turkish warnings about a new wave of refugees ensuring that civilians fleeing the attacks would go not to Turkey but to Damascus, something that time again has proven to be false.
In Moscow, the Russian delegation headed by Russian envoy for Syria Sergey Vershinin, and the Turkish one headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, will try to find a negotiated solution that will put an end to the serious situation in the region. Diplomatic sources cited by the Turkish press confirmed that the Turkish delegation will insist on the need to cease the fighting immediately to avoid an aggravation of the humanitarian crisis.
It is not clear, however, to what extent a possible agreement between Turkey – the main ally of the Syrian opposition – and Russia – which supports the Assad regime – will serve to achieve an effective and real cease-fire in Syria that stops the humanitarian catastrophe, as both countries have previously reached similar agreements that the Syrian regime has then systematically breached.
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He is the “old man” of the team, as we like to call him, although he still has a long way to go. A tireless traveller, he has travelled halfway around the world… and pretends to visit the other half!! A political science graduate, he is particularly passionate about the Middle East, the Caucasus and Greece.