Idlib raid could ig­nite ‘gi­gan­tic pow­der keg:’ UN

‘Over re­cent days we have seen provo­ca­tions and counter-provo­ca­tions, ex­changes of mor­tars and grenades... We have seen in­creas­ing in­cur­sions in both di­rec­tions’

The Gulf Today - - MIDDLE EAST -

Geneva: the united na­tions voiced alarm on Thurs­day over re­newed Rus­sian air raids on Idlib, Syria’s last rebel and ex­trem­ist strong­hold, warn­ing the strikes risk set­ting of “a gi­gan­tic power keg.” “We are very wor­ried for re­cent de­vel­op­ments,” Jan Ege­land, the head of the UN Hu­man­i­tar­ian Task­force for Syria, told re­porters.

A 10-week-old Idlib truce deal hangs in the bal­ance af­ter an al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack in the gov­ern­ment-held city of Aleppo on Satur­day, which trig­gered re­tal­ia­tory raids.

The ex­act cir­cum­stances of the at­tack on three districts of Aleppo re­main murky and bit­terly dis­puted.

Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-as­sad’s gov­ern­ment has blamed ighters in neigh­bour­ing Idlib for the at­tack, which the Syr­ian Observatory for Hu­man Rights said hos­pi­talised 94 peo­ple.

In his inal press con­fer­ence be­fore step­ping down on f rid ay,eg eland stressed that if a chem­i­cal at­tack is conirmed, “it is a war crime.” At the same time, he de­scribed the es­ca­la­tion around Idlib, and the irst air raids on the area since mid-septem­ber, as “very se­ri­ous”.

“Over re­cent days we have seen provo­ca­tions and counter-provo­ca­tions, ex­changes of mor­tars and grenades... We have seen in­creas­ing in­cur­sions in both di­rec­tions,” he said, warn­ing that “this is the worst pos­si­ble kind of ac­tion in the worst pos­si­ble place.” “It is re­ally play­ing with a gi­gan­tic pow­der keg in the mid­dle of three mil­lion civil­ians.” Ege­land mean­while said he was “heart­ened” that both Tur­key and Rus­sia had in­sisted dur­ing Thurs­day’s task­force meet­ing that they re­mained com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing the U-shaped buf­fer zone they helped cre­ate around Idlib. Dur­ing that meet­ing, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of both coun­tries had said “we still be­lieve in this, we are still go­ing to push it,” Ege­land told re­porters.

He ap­plauded both for their ef­forts but said they could do more to ward off catas­tro­phe in Idlib.

He urged Tur­key to “curb the bad ten­den­cies among armed op­po­si­tion groups”, and said “cer­tainly Rus­sia can cease air raids im­me­di­ately, and that is what they need to do.” His com­ments came as ne­go­tia­tors from Iran, Rus­sia and Tur­key con­cluded a meet­ing in Kaza­khstan’s cap­i­tal As­tana in a bid to pre­serve the id lib t ru ce.eg eland ac­knowl­edged that it was di­fi­cult to leave a post he has held for more than three years, be­cause Syria’s grind­ing civil war, which has killed more than 360,000 peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions, “is not over”.

Jan Ege­land

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