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UN commission: Syria opposition forces should leave Idlib

A damaged building is seen after Assad Regime's airstrikes hit residential areas in the de-escalation zones in Idlib in Syria on December 31, 2017 [Ekrem Masry / Anadolu Agency]
A damaged building is seen after the Assad Regime carried out air strikesin Idlib in Syria [Ekrem Masry / Anadolu Agency]

A UN commission has called for Syrian opposition groups to leave urban areas in the northern province of Idlib in order to prevent an attack from the Syrian government and its allies.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria Chief Paulo Pinheiro made the suggestion yesterday, echoing UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura’s comments last week.

“Most of those terrorist groups and other armed groups, they are in the cities. Perhaps one wonderful scenario is: leave the cities,” he said.

Hany Magally, a fellow panel member, added: “Shouldn’t the armed groups move out and spare the civilian population?”

The comments were made following the release of a UN report which confirmed the further use of banned chlorine weapons by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad three times in 2018, one of which took place in Idlib. The report affirmed that their usage constituted a war crime against the Syrian people.

Since the beginning of the month, shelling and air strikes by the regime and Russia have killed at least 28 civilians in the opposition-held zone, according to the White Helmets civil defence unit. At least 30,000 people have been displaced from southern towns near the border with neighbouring Hama, in fear of a greater imminent assault.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also revealed yesterday that a hospital targeted by Russian airstrikes on the 6 September had been designated as a de-conflicted zone. The coordinates of the hospital were shared with Russia such that the area could be avoided; it was subsequently bombed, causing major structural and equipment damage, and eventually rendered out of service. It had previous provided an average of 780 consultations, 200 trauma case treatments, and 15 surgeries every month.

Read: US has seen evidence of Syria preparing chemical weapons in Idlib

The UN, Turkey and other Western nations have repeatedly warned that any major assault on the northern province could spark one of the worst humanitarian disasters of Syria’s seven-year war. The province is home to some three million people, half of whom are internally displaced from other parts of Syria.

Russia and the Syrian regime have accused Idlib as being a “nest of terrorists” and a “festering abscess” that must be resolved. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week called for militants to be “cleaned out” out of the north, later adding that fighters should be removed with “the least human cost” possible.

#WarInSyria

Yesterday, in Geneva, delegations from Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed to establish a Joint Working Group to set up a constitutional committee for Syria. UN envoy de Mistura is also due to meet with officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UK and the US tomorrow. On 18 September, he will update the UN Security Council on the outcome of the two-day talks.

In Idlib, protests are planned for the second Friday in a row tomorrow, under the slogan of “No alternative to regime change”, as a rejection of any deal that will see Al-Assad remain in power. Last week in mass protests took place in over 100 locations across opposition-held territory, with demonstrators vowing to continue their resistance and condemning the aggression of the regime and its allies.

Read: Children killed as Syria regime bombs school in Idlib

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