European nations condemn Assad’s Idlib offensive on anniversary of civil war

France, Germany and UK repeat call for ceasefire

A Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighter takes a picture with a mobile phone during a protest against the agreement on joint Russian and Turkish patrols, at M4 highway in Idlib province, Syria, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

On the ninth anniversary of the Syrian civil war, European nations condemned the “reckless” military offensive by President Bashar Al Assad and his allies in Idlib.

France, Germany and the UK said on Saturday that the push into the north-west province only causes more suffering and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Their joint statement said the attack devastated the country’s medical and humanitarian systems and was responsible for killing many civilians.

As the conflict enters its 10th year, the civil war has displaced 11 million people, almost half of Syria’s pre-war population, and killed more than 500,000 Syrians.

“Nine years ago today, tens of thousands of Syrians peacefully took to the streets calling for respect for human rights and the end of government corruption,” the countries said.

“Instead of heeding the Syrian people’s legitimate demands, the Assad regime responded with a ruthless campaign of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and violence.

“The Assad regime must accept the will of the Syrian people who demand and deserve to live in peace and free of shelling, chemical weapons attacks, barrel bombs, air strikes, arbitrary detention, torture and starvation.

The countries called for free and democratic elections in Syria.

They expressed their satisfaction at the liberation by the Global Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces of all territory once held by ISIS. But they also said the threat from the terrorist group remained – and that the coalition would continue to fight it.

In the latest assault in Idlib, the country’s last rebel stronghold, the fighting has displaced almost a million civilians since December, the fastest displacement since the start of the conflict.

“For the latest ceasefire in north-west Syria to endure, a nationwide ceasefire must be established as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” the statement said.

The three nations

They warned that life-saving assistance was still not reaching large numbers populations in desperate need.

They said they would continue to support humanitarian aid to the Syrian people but would not provide any help in rebuilding until a credible, substantive and genuine political process was irreversibly under way.

“Without such a process, reconstruction assistance for Syria would only entrench a deeply flawed and abusive government, increase corruption, reinforce the war economy and further aggravate the root causes of the conflict,” their statement said.

The European countries urged the international community to continue to provide assistance to Syria’s neighbours to share the costs of the refugee crisis.

It said displaced Syrians must be allowed to return voluntarily and safely to their homes, without fear of arbitrary detention, breach of rights and forced conscription, but the regime continued to prevent them from doing so.

“We will continue to demand accountability for the atrocities committed by the Assad regime and we will continue our efforts to make sure that those who are responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other violations and abuses are identified and held accountable.

“The military solution the Syrian regime hopes to achieve, with backing from Russia and Iran, will not bring peace.

“We reiterate our strong support for the UN-led process in Geneva and the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 to bring about a peaceful and stable Syria.”