Turkey threatens to hit Syrian 'radicals' who do not abide by ceasefire

14.02.2020

Turkey on Thursday threatened to use force against “radicals” in Syria’s Idlib province after Russia accused Ankara of failing to “neutralise” jihadist groups under a 2018 deal.

“Force will be used in Idlib against those who do not abide by the ceasefire, including the radicals,” Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency. “Any form of measure will be taken,” he said.

Idlib – the last opposition bastion in Syria – is held by an array of rebels dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, which is led by members of the country’s former al-Qaida franchise.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have pressed ahead with an offensive in the region since December, killing more than 380 civilians, according to monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The killing of 14 Turks in Idlib in government shelling has fuelled tensions between Ankara and Damascus, while raising stakes with Russia – a key ally of Assad.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Russia of committing “massacres” in Idlib and threatened to strike government forces anywhere in Syria if the slightest harm is done to Turkish troops.

In return, Moscow accused Ankara of failing to honour the 2018 deal, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Turkish side “had taken upon itself an obligation to neutralise terrorist groups” in Idlib. Under the bilateral agreement, radical groups were required to withdraw from a demilitarised zone in the Idlib region.

Turkish Chief of Staff General Yasar Guler spoke by phone on Thursday with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, about the situation in Idlib, the Turkish army announced on Twitter.

Humanitarian crisis

The escalation comes as the United Nations expressed concern over the mass displacement and humanitarian situation in Syria’s northwest. Over 140,000 Syrians have been displaced in the last three days alone, bringing the total of those uprooted in a Syrian government offensive against the last opposition stronghold to over 800,000, the UN said on Thursday.

The UN said at least 60 percent of the more than 800,000 displaced since 1 December are children. The humanitarian crisis in the already overcrowded opposition-held enclave is compounded by freezing weather conditions and existing severe needs.

The government offensive, backed by Russia, has intensified and expanded to include southern and eastern Idlib province as well as southern and western Aleppo, an area home to an estimated four million people. Most have already been displaced from other parts of Syria because of the ongoing conflict.

The humanitarian situation for people in northwest Syria is “at the most critical points”, the UN said, adding that the massive scale of human displacement over such a short period of time has increased needs exponentially.

David Swanson, UN regional spokesperson for the crisis in Syria, said more resources, including funding, are immediately needed to save lives and alleviate suffering, predicting the 800,000 figure will rise in the coming days as the government offensive continues.

“This level of displacement couldn’t come at a worse time as more and more people are squeezed into an increasingly smaller area of land with little more than the clothes on their back,” he said, describing people fleeing in the middle of the night to avoid detection in temperatures below zero.

“The crisis is deepening by the minute, but the international community remains indifferent,” Swanson added.    (FRANCE 24/AFP/AP)

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