JEDDAH: The UN called on Russia, Iran and Turkey on Thursday to forestall a battle in Syria’s Idlib province, which could affect millions of civilians and see both militants and the regime potentially using chlorine gas as a chemical weapon.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that there was a high concentration of foreign fighters in Idlib, including an estimated 10,000 militants designated by the UN as terrorists.
He offered to travel to Idlib himself to help ensure that civilians could leave through a humanitarian corridor amid fears of full-scale military operations in the area.
“I am once again prepared ... personally and physically to get involved myself, with the government cooperation this time ... to ensure such a temporary corridor would be feasible and guaranteed for the people so that they can then return to their own places once this is over,” de Mistura said.
The Syrian opposition swiftly rejected De Mistura’s offer. Its spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News: “I cannot understand this suggestion by de Mistura about corridors. In the past, the destination for war-displaced people was Idlib. De Mistura himself said that there would be no other Idlib. How could he suggest a corridor now? Where would over 3 million people go? Turkey would close its doors. Could they go to another planet?”
The only solution to this, Al-Aridi said, is to stop “this devilish and criminal act” against civilians.
“Is it the UN’s specialization to find corridors for the Syrians who have been thrown out of their homes by this brutal regime and its supporters?” he asked.
The Turks and the Russians are still discussing ways to get Al-Nusra to dissolve itself, Al-Aridi said, adding: “Russia is saying that there are parties who want a political settlement on the part of Al-Fasaail (another armed group).”
Al-Aridi said that Idlib itself is a de-escalation area and Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, is a co-signer to that. “If anything happens, it would be another proof that Russia doesn’t honor any promise or any word it utters or paper it signs.”
He said that the “storm” that de Mistura warned about could be avoided by getting rid of the source of the tension — “the regime of oppression and aggression” in Damascus.
Al-Aridi questioned the figure of 10,000 terrorists mentioned by de Mistura. “We don’t know how Mr. de Mistura calculated this number. It is not his job to decide who is a terrorist and who is not. All we know is there are over 3 million civilians in Idlib and there is a party that doesn’t care about them — the regime and its backers.”