By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS (AA) — United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Friday warned that recent fighting between Turkey and Russian-backed Syrian forces marked the “most alarming” phase in Syria’s nearly 10-year civil war.
Speaking with reporters in New York, Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire, saying that the previous 24-hour period of clashes between Turkish and Syrian government forces marked a “serious escalation of the hostilities”.
“This is one of the most alarming moments across the duration of the Syrian conflict. Without urgent action, the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour,” Guterres told reporters.
“And as always, civilians are paying the gravest price. Nearly 1 million people have fled their homes in the past three months. Airstrikes continue to hit schools and medical facilities.”
Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, said he had been in contact with officials of countries involved in the conflict and had communicated to them “one simple message: step back from the edge of further escalation”.
“I also reiterate my appeal for civilian protection. The conflict in Syria will soon enter its tenth year. A decade of fighting has brought nothing but ruin and misery,” added Guterres.
“The noose keeps tightening, as the frontlines reach more densely populated areas.”
Later on Friday, the 15-nation UN Security Council was set to hold an emergency session about the fighting in northwest Syria province of Idlib.
“There is no military solution. The only path is a UN-facilitated political process,” said Guterres. “I remind everyone that that resolution called for a nationwide ceasefire. Now is the time to give a chance for diplomacy to work.”
Roughly 900,000 civilians have been displaced since the Syrian government began its offensive on Idlib province with the assistance of Russian air power and Iranian-backed forces in December.
Some 33 Turkish soldiers have died in a Syrian government attack in rebel-held north-western Syria, in a major escalation of the conflict. Turkey, which backs opposition fighters, says it struck 200 government targets in retaliation.
Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s war, but have nevertheless tried to broker a political deal. Bashar al-Assad’s assault on the northwest has upset this effort, seeing Ankara and Moscow accuse each other of breaking de-escalation deals in the region.