Britain, France, the United States and eight other countries at the UN Security Council warned Friday of a potential humanitarian catastrophe from an all-out assault in Syria’s Idlib region, in a statement opposed by Russia.
Syrian forces and their Russian allies have stepped up air strikes and shelling in the jihadist-controlled Idlib region since late April, raising alarm over a possible looming full-on offensive by Damascus to seize the territory.
“We express our deep concern of a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full-scale military operation in Idlib zone,” Belgian Ambassador Marc Pesteen told reporters after a closed-door meeting.
Diplomats said Russia, supported by China, opposed the statement during the meeting.
Two other countries — South Africa and Indonesia — did not join the show of unity outside the council chambers by the diplomats from countries including Kuwait, Poland, Peru and Germany.
The council members said they condemned the loss of civilian lives and were alarmed by the displacement of over 150,000 people as well as the targeting of hospitals and schools.
They called on all warring sides to protect civilians and abide by the ceasefire arrangements reached by Turkey, Iran and Russia in September 2018.
Since April 29, 12 health facilities including two major hospitals have been hit in northwest Syria, according to the World Health Organization.
About three million people live in Idlib, the largest bastion to remain outside the control of the Syrian government.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said he feared a possible repeat of the bloody battle that devastated Aleppo in 2016.
“A new Aleppo must at all cost be prevented in Idlib,” said Delattre ahead of the meeting.
Diplomats said the meeting was to draw attention to the crisis and expected Russia to oppose any joint statement. Russia has used its veto power 12 times at the council to block action against its ally in Damascus.
Belgium, Germany and Kuwait, three non-permanent council members, requested the urgent meeting as they are leading efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria, now in its ninth year of war.