By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) – Military escalation in northwestern Syria will lead to catastrophic consequences for civilians, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday, amid signs of an imminent offensive by regime forces on an opposition-held province.
Guterres stressed in a report to the UN Security Council that an increase in military activity could trigger massive population movements in the country and leave residents of the region with severely limit access to humanitarian assistance and basic services.
His statement came as the UN warned of a planned operation by regime forces in Idlib province that would lead to a "humanitarian disaster".
Guterres emphasized that military activity is a "worrying trend", especially in northwestern Syria, "where some 3 million Syrians continue to reside".
"I reiterate that the perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable. Such a step is central to achieving sustainable peace in the Syrian Arab Republic. I also reiterate my call for the situation in the country to be referred to the International Criminal Court," he said.
Guterres called on all sides to avoid bloodshed and to "abide by the de-escalation agreement" and said that all parties in the conflict must adhere to international humanitarian law and protect civilians.
"There can be only one agenda for us all: to end the suffering of the Syrian people and to find a sustainable solution to the conflict in the country through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."
Up to 2 million people who have been displaced across Syria came to northwest Syria to take refuge, but there have already been at least 37 attacks on health facilities in the Idlib region so far this year and civilians, aid workers and medical staff fear for their safety, according to the British government.
Syria’s brutal seven-year-long civil war has cost an estimated 400,000 lives, displaced more than 11 million people and led to a severe shortage of food, clean water and healthcare.