Pope Francis on Sunday appealed to all parties who have influence in Syria to defend human rights and safeguard the civilian population in the rebel-held northern region of Idlib, which faces an imminent attack by the Assad regime forces and their allies.
“The winds of war are blowing and we are receiving troubling news about the risk of a possible humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, in the province of Idlib,” Francis told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing.
“I renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community and all the actors involved to use the tools of diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation to ensure the respect of international human rights and to safeguard civilian lives,” he added.
A major offensive in the Idlib area, where displaced people already make up half the population, risks forcing another 800,000 Syrians from their homes, the United Nations has said. It called on Russia, Turkey and Iran to intensify efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Idlib.
In an interview with AFP, a representative of the United Nations Humanitarian Coordination Office (OCHA) said such an attack could be catastrophic.
“We fear that — should there be an increased escalation of hostilities in that area — up to 800,000 people could be displaced and that the number of people who are in need of humanitarian assistance, which is already high, could increase dramatically,” said Linda Tom.
The Syrian Coalition earlier warned that any attack by the Assad regime and its allies on Idlib will have tragic consequences, pointing out that the offensive that the regime and its allies are planning to launch in the province risks undermining the efforts of the international community and all chances of peace.
Idlib is covered by the ‘de-escalation zones” agreement which was reached by Turkey, Russia and Iran during the Astana talks in May 2017. Turkey and Russia set up military observation military posts in and around the province to monitor the implementation of the agreement. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)