By Elena Teslova
MOSCOW (AA) – The UN special envoy for Syria on Friday called the humanitarian situation in the conflict-hit province of Idlib "a disaster".
Speaking at a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Geir Pedersen said the civilians in Idlib pay "too high a price" for the fight against terrorism.
He asserted the normalization in Idlib as a key component for the return of refugees back to Syria.
"The problem is that more than 50% of the population of Syria left their homes. So what we want to achieve now is to create the situation where they start to return. Then we need the political process and to stabilize the situation in Idlib.
"We understand the challenges when it comes to fighting terrorism, but we always also said that what we see now, that the price that the civilian population is paying, is too high."
He went on to say that 700,000 people have been displaced since last April and more than 1,500 civilians killed.
The envoy praised establishment of the Syrian constitutional committee as "an important step forward".
"The establishment of the constitutional committee was for the first time where the two parties agreed on a written document, it's the basis for coming together and negotiating. And it was also a way for the two parties to recognize each other," he said.
Pedersen added that the interactions within the format is a way "to build the confidence between the parties".
"We understand that it will take time, we are not rushing this, and we hope it will have effect to the broader political process, and improve the lives of the Syrians that live in the country and push the return of refugees," he said.
Pedersen also announced his visit to Damascus next Wednesday on Jan. 29 where he will have talks with the Syrian government.
For his part, Lavrov focused on the economic and humanitarian aspects of the crisis.
"We appreciate the approach you and your team took to create the conditions for the negotiators to create the dialogue culture, to establish trust, this is a very important component for the settlement.
"We do not dramatize the very fact that few months after the constitutional committee, no great results have been achieved, it was not expected. We will support in every way your efforts aiming to create conditions for the progress during next session of the editorial commission, whenever you see suitable to run the event," he said.
Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib, Syria into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Since then, more than 1,300 civilians there have been killed in attacks by the Bashar al-Assad regime and Russian forces as the cease-fire continued to be violated.
Over one million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks over the last year.