Erdoğan raises fears of a massacre in Syria as major assault looms
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has warned that dropping bombs and missiles on Syria’s last rebel-held province of Idlib could cause a “massacre”.
“God forbid, a serious massacre could take place if there is a rain of missiles there,” Erdoğan said after an official visit to the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, Hürriyet Daily News reported on Wednesday.
His comments came as Syrian troops gathered near the north-western region of Idlib for a major assault that has raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not yet seen in the seven-year-old conflict.
On Tuesday the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said panic was spreading among the 3 million citizens of Idlib province as he suggested the Assad government and its allies had set 10 September as the date for a full-scale bombardment of the last large rebel enclave.
Damascus and its main backer, Moscow, have vowed to root out the jihadist groups that dominate Idlib province.
On Tuesday Russia, an ally of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, resumed airstrikes on Idlib after a 22-day pause.
Turkey, which backs some of the rebels, has held several rounds of talks with Russia aimed at averting an assault on Idlib, as well as with Washington.
“Our cooperation with Russia now is very important,” he said. “The United States sends the ball into the corner of Russia and Russia into the corner of the US.”
Erdoğan added a “very merciless process” was unfolding in Idlib, warning of the risk that heavy fighting would trigger an influx of refugees.
He said: “3.5 million people live there. God forbid, it is again Turkey where those people will flee in case of a disaster.”
Idlib is one of the “de-escalation” zones set up as a result of talks by Russia, Turkey and Iran last year as Damascus regained control of more of the country.
Erdoğan, as well as the presidents of Iran and Russia, will meet on Friday in Tehran for a summit expected to focus on Idlib.
“God willing we will succeed in averting the extreme actions of the regime there by getting a positive result from the Tehran summit,” he said.
The UN security council is also due to meet on Friday to address the situation in Idlib amid growing fears of an attack and the possible use of chemical weapons.
Donald Trump has warned Assad, Iran and Russia not to “recklessly attack” in the rebel-held Idlib province, saying that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.
Meanwhile, De Mistura on Tuesday pleaded with the Russian and Turkish presidents to “look each other in the eyes” and find a solution that avoids a humanitarian tragedy in the region. He repeated his personal offer to go to Idlib to find a formula that avoids further conflict.
De Mistura also said he believed both sides in the conflict might have access to chlorine-based weapons, describing them as in the grey zone between conventional and chemical weapons.