Syrian civilians in rebel-held region ‘could evacuate to government areas’

- Advertisement -

The UN envoy for Syria has proposed that civilians in the rebel-held region of Idlib could evacuate to government areas.

Staffan de Mistura expressed fears of a “perfect storm” that could have a devastating impact on nearly 3 million people — nearly half of whom arrived from elsewhere in Syria — in the region largely controlled by al Qaida-linked fighters.

It came as Russia, President Bashar Assad’s strongest military backer, announced major military drills in the Mediterranean Sea amid growing tensions over the enclave.

“Short of going to Turkey, the civilians have no other option in order not to be where fighting may take place,” Mr de Mistura said.

The evacuation plan is in its early phases and will need to be discussed with regional players. Russia has expressed openness to the idea.

The evacuation proposal reflected rising concerns that Idlib could become the site of the latest humanitarian disaster in a country that has faced many of them during a war that has killed over 400,000 people and driven more than 5.5 million to flee abroad.

Mr de Mistura said a proposal would be a “temporary” measure so that “people can then return to their own places untouched once this is over”.

Ahmad Ramadan, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition’s delegation to UN talks with the government, called Mr de Mistura’s proposal “unrealistic”.

“It’s very regrettable,” he said. “The special envoy’s role is not to call for a humanitarian corridor, but to call on Russia to stop the aggression.”

Idlib is the last remaining refuge for the Syrian opposition since President Bashar Assad’s forces began recapturing territory from rebels in 2015. The country has been consumed by war since demonstrations broke out against Assad in 2011.

Separately on Thursday, at a news conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government plans to “liberate” Idlib, but that its priority was “to negotiate peace with those who want to surrender”.

Russia Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for the talks in Moscow (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The militants have arrested over 500 people accused of trying to negotiate with the regime in recent weeks, according to Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Mr de Mistura said 10,000 al-Qaida-linked fighters and their families are located in the densely populated region, which is now home to 2.9 million people, many of them already displaced.

After hosting nine rounds of fruitless talks between the Syrian government and opposition, Mr de Mistura has recently focused his efforts on talks with the so-called “guarantors” of the peace process: Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Mr de Mistura said he had no information about any “imminent attack” but pointed to information about military build-ups and messages of warning between the sides in Syria. He also spoke of “warnings and counter-warnings” between the United States and Russia, though he did not elaborate.

“We need to reduce the risk of unexpected escalation, and definitely look with great concern about any potential use of chemical weapons or any type of weaponised chlorine,” he said.

The US, Britain and France have warned they will respond to any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Latest Stories

- Advertisement -

UK News

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Read the latest free supplements

Read the Town Crier, Le Rocher and a whole host of other subjects like mortgage advice, business, cycling, travel and property.