UN warns of ‘bloodbath’ as Syria fighting escalates

The United Nations warned on Friday that escalating fighting in northwest Syria could end in a “bloodbath” as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned Russia’s leader to discuss the quickly deteriorating situation.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan agreed to intensify talks on Syria’s Idlib region to reduce tensions and implement a ceasefire.

Putin told Erdogan he was “seriously concerned” by the “aggressive actions” of rebels in Idlib.

“The necessity of unconditional respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria was underlined,” the Kremlin statement said.

Erdogan told Putin the solution was to return to the Sochi agreement they signed in 2018, which allowed Turkey to establish military posts across Idlib designed to prevent a Syrian government assault. That deal has been increasingly set aside as Syrian forces advance steadily into the region.

“The president during the call stressed that the regime should be restrained in Idlib and that the humanitarian crisis must be stopped,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement after the two leaders spoke.

Erdogan also asked his French and German counterparts to provide “concrete” support in ending the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Syria’s Idlib region, Turkey’s presidency said. Erdogan said attacks in Idlib – where a Russia-backed Syrian government offensive has displaced nearly one million people and brought Ankara, Moscow and Damascus to the brink of confrontation – must be stopped.

Idlib is the final stronghold of rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government during a nine-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in Idlib, has lost 16 military personnel this month in clashes with Syrian forces. It has bolstered its positions and called for Syrian forces to pull back.

With Ankara threatening an “imminent” operation against Syrian forces, Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar inspected troops gathered at the Syrian border on Friday.

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