Europeans at UN urge protection for Idlib civilians

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On the eve of a summit between Russia, Iran and Turkey on Syria’s military plan to retake rebel-held Idlib, the eight European UN Security Council members issued an appeal on Thursday for civilian protection.

Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden said in a joint statement they were “deeply concerned” about military action in northwest Syria “with potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences for civilians.”

The presidents of Syria's military allies, Russia and Iran, along with Turkey, which supports some rebel groups, will meet in Tehran on Friday for talks expected to decide the fate of Idlib, Syria’s last major rebel bastion.

The eight nations urged Russia, Iran and Turkey to uphold the ceasefire and de-escalation arrangements that had been agreed in Idlib, “including protecting civilians as a matter of priority.”

“A full-scale military offensive in Idlib would put at risk the lives of more than three million civilians, including one million children, living in the region,” said the joint statement.

They warned of possible mass displacement and recalled that any use of chemical weapons would be “totally unacceptable.”

Russia, Turkey and Iran are the guarantors of the Astana process, a track of negotiations that has eclipsed the older Geneva process and is a de facto help for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in re-asserting his authority on the country.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said the European council members were sending a “strong message” to the guarantors of the Astana process ahead of the Tehran summit.

The Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting on Friday on the crisis in Idlib.

The United States has urged Syria and its military backers to halt plans for an all-out attack on Idlib.

More than 350,000 people have died in Syria’s seven-year war, but UN diplomats fear the assault on Idlib could trigger one of the worst bloodbaths of the conflict.

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