UK, France and Germany call on Assad to halt ‘ruthless’ assault on Idlib

Britain, France and Germany have called on the Assad regime to halt its “ruthless reconquest” of the rebel-held province in Idlib while Turkey has appealed directly to Russia to bring a stop to the offensive. 

World powers have grown increasingly alarmed as pro-Assad forces, backed by Russian airpower have begun assaulting the south of Idlib, killing more than 120 civilians and bombing 18 hospitals. 

There are around 3 million civilians in the province, prompting European and Turkish fears that a major offensive would trigger a fresh flow of Syrian refugees. 

With little diplomatic or military leverage over the situation, the three European governments had few option besides issuing a joint statement condemning the violence and calling for a halt to the fighting. 

The UK, France, and Germany acknowledged that Idlib is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, but said that was no justification for the intense bombardment. 

“The current brutal offensive by the Syrian regime and its backers on millions of civilians living in the area is not about fighting terrorism. It is about pushing forward the ruthless reconquest by the regime,” the three governments said. 

Turkey has troops stationed in Idlib and has more political heft because of Russia’s desire to support the Assad regime without alienating the Turks. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, told Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, that he believed the Syrian regime offensive was meant to “sabotage” Turkish-Russian cooperation, a spokesman said. 

Russia is pushing Turkey to use its influence with the rebels to force HTS fighters to pull back from a buffer zone around the province’s borders. 

The Russian and Turkish defence ministers also spoke on Tuesday about how to de-escalate the situation. 

Pro-Assad forces have captured several towns in the south of Idlib since the offensive began three weeks ago but have not yet made major territorial gains. 

It remains unclear where Syrian regime troops hope to completely overrun the province or have more limited goals, such as capturing key motorways.   

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