The international NGO founded by Nelson Mandela, the Elders has urged the three guarantors of the Astana Process, Iran, Russia and Turkey, to work together to avoid an assault on Idlib that would result in “needless deaths”.
“Russia, Iran and Turkey have taken it upon themselves to work together to restore peace and security to Syria. As a result, they have a heavy responsibility to act decisively at this time to prevent further deaths and injuries to civilians in Idlib. The situation could not be more urgent,” Gro Harlem Brundtland, acting chair of the Elders and former prime minister of Norway, said in a press release.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, alongside ally Russia, has been advancing on the last opposition stronghold in the north for several weeks, with fears of an imminent largescale offensive rising.
Since the beginning of the month, shelling and air strikes by the regime and Russia have killed at least 28 civilians in Idlib, according to the White Helmets civil rescue unit. At least 30,000 people have been displaced from southern towns near the border with neighbouring Hama, in fear of a greater assault.
“The people of Syria have suffered too much and for far too long,” Lakhdar Brahimi, Elder and the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, added. “The Syrian Government and its supporters, Turkey and the armed groups can and must do all that is necessary to ensure that the vast civilian population in Idlib province receives the effective protection which international humanitarian law gives them.”
Russia and the Syrian regime have accused Idlib of being a “nest of terrorists” and a “festering abscess” that must be resolved.
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 in the war so far. The province is home to some three million people, half of whom are internally displaced from other parts of Syria.
The press release noted that UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is due to meet with officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UK and the US today, to discuss measures to de-escalate the conflict. On 18 September, he will update the UN Security Council on the outcome of the two-day talks.
Meanwhile, mass demonstrations are taking place across Idlib and the northern provinces for the second Friday in a row today, 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 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.