A full-scale regime assault on Syria's last opposition and rebel-held province of Idlib would sabotage the ongoing political process, Turkey's presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Erdogan.

Newly displaced Syrians arrive at a refugee camp in Atimah village, Idlib province, Syria on September 11, 2018.
Newly displaced Syrians arrive at a refugee camp in Atimah village, Idlib province, Syria on September 11, 2018. (Reuters)

A possible attack on Syria’s last opposition and rebel-held province of Idlib would sabotage the ongoing political process and cause a serious crisis of confidence, Turkey's presidential spokesman said on Tuesday.

Ibrahim Kalin’s remarks came after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential complex.

Since the beginning of September, at least 30 civilians have been killed in Idlib and Hama, and dozens injured by air strikes and attacks by the regime and Russian warplanes, according to the White Helmets civil defence agency.

The Syrian regime is widely reported to be planning to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which remains under the control of various armed opposition groups

Last week, the UN warned that such an offensive would likely lead to the “worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century."

Kalin said Turkey expects all parties to make “constructive” contributions and agree on a political solution on Syria.

He urged the West, including the US, to join hands in stopping a possible attack on Idlib. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said that the representatives of Turkey, Russia, and Iran  – the guarantor countries within the framework of the Astana peace procress – met UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura on September 10 and 11 in Geneva.

“During the meeting, they discussed the formation of a constitutional committee and its codes of practice which constitute an important step in the struggle of finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

'Bloodbath' must be averted

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday warned Syria and its backers Russia and Iran against launching a full-scale offensive in Idlib, saying the rebel-held province "must not be transformed into a bloodbath."

"It is absolutely essential to avoid a full-scale battle in Idlib," Guterres told reporters at UN headquarters.

"This would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the blood-soaked Syrian conflict."

Russia, Iran and Turkey held a summit in Tehran last week to discuss the Assad regime's reported plan to use military force to restore Damascus' control over Idlib, where three million people live.

Turkey is appealing for a ceasefire to allow for negotiations on the fate of armed groups in Idlib, but Russia and Iran have rejected that call.

Guterres said he was appealing to Iran, Russia and Turkey to "spare no effort to find solutions that protect civilians" and warned that any use of chemical weapons would be "totally unacceptable."

Turkey, which has sent troops to Idlib and supports some of the armed opposition, called for "an immediate ceasefire" and urged "the international community to vocally and actively support our efforts to this end."

Turkey, Russia and Iran last year set up the Astana process, a negotiating track to end Syria's war that complements the UN-led peace process.

TRT World's Sara Firth reports from Syria.

'Let's work together to eliminate terror'

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday also called on international allies to work together in Syria's Idlib with efforts to prevent civilian casualties.

"What we propose is very clear. Let's stop this civil war in Idlib. And if the concern is the presence of the terrorist groups, let's work together to eliminate them," Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with his Romanian and Polish counterparts in Bucharest, capital of Romania.

Underscoring the necessity of preventing civilian casualties, he further called on Russia, Iran, the US, France and the UK as well as all other partners and actors in Syria to work together and find a peaceful solution.

"I call on everybody to raise their voice and also stand against the aggression of regime in Syria and to find a peaceful solution," he added.

TRT World's  Oubai Shahbandar has more from Gaziantep, on Turkey's border with Syria.

UN Security Council meeting

Syria was also on the agenda at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, when Turkish Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu said "There is no doubt that an all-out military operation would result in a major humanitarian catastrophe."

Air strikes and bombings would trigger a "massive wave of refugees and tremendous security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond," he warned.

UK's UN ambassador Karen Pierce said her country "strongly" agreed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's op-ed on Idlib published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

In the article, Erdogan said “All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense.”

“A regime assault [in Idlib] would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond,” he added.

US ambassador Nikki Haley accused the regime's main backers of escalating the violence in Idlib province and using terrorist tactics.

She said the Astana process, designed by Moscow to negotiate peace in Syria, was a failure.

Haley warned Assad and his allies that any assault on Idlib would be considered "reckless" by the US and "the consequences will be dire. The world will hold them responsible."

Haley further blamed Russia and the regime for allegedly carrying out more than 100 air strikes, some of which she said were "ruthless double tap" strikes targeting first responders.

“It is a disgusting tactic of terrorists, not professional soldiers,” Halley said.

She also said that "Russia has the power to stop the catastrophe looming in Idlib."

Haley said the Trump administration hasn't seen any actions "to indicate that Russia, Iran and Assad are interested in a political solution."

"All we've seen are the actions of cowards interested in a bloody military conquest of Idlib."

Russia responded and insisted that the planned assault on Idlib is a "counterterrorism operation" and that measures will be taken to spare civilians.

Looming humanitarian disaster

Violence in northwest Syria has displaced more than 30,000 people this month alone, the UN said, warning that a looming assault could create the century's "worst humanitarian catastrophe."

Idlib province and adjacent rural areas form the largest piece of territory still held by Syria's beleaguered opposition fighters, worn down by a succession of regime victories in recent months.

Regime leader Bashar al Assad has now set his sights on Idlib, and his forces have stepped up bombardment of the densely populated province since the beginning of the month.

That has prompted more than 30,000 people to be displaced within Idlib and parts of adjacent Hama province between September 1 and 9, the UN's humanitarian co-ordination agency (OCHA) said on Monday.

"We're deeply concerned about this recent escalation of violence, which has resulted in the displacement of over 30,000 in the area. That's something we're monitoring very closely," OCHA spokesman David Swanson said.

Many made a dash for Syria's northern border with Turkey, with just under half seeking refuge in displacement camps and others living with local families or renting apartments.

Idlib is home to some three million people – about half of them displaced by fighting in other parts of the country during the war, now in its eighth year, according to the UN.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies