Israel Air Strikes Hit Iran Sites In Syria Killing 10

Photo Credit: The Defense Post

 

Israeli warplanes struck Syria Wednesday, hitting Iranian targets and killing 10 Syrian and foreign fighters in what the Israeli army called a retaliatory attack after explosive devices were found near one of its bases on the occupied Golan Heights.

The airstrikes came hours before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to land in Israel for talks including on Iran, in what was likely to be his last visit to the staunch American ally before President Donald Trump leaves office.

An Israeli army statement said its fighter jets had overnight hit “military targets belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian armed forces”. The elite Quds Force is the main foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The targets included “storage facilities, headquarters, and military compounds” as well as “Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries,” it said.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the strikes had killed three of its soldiers and wounded another.

The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 people were killed, including foreign fighters as well as Syrian soldiers.

The foreigners included five fighters who were “likely Iranian and belonging to the Quds force” as well as two pro-Iran fighters of undetermined nationality, the Britain-based monitor said.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air and missile strikes on Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as government troops.

– Retaliatory strikes –

The Jewish state rarely acknowledges individual strikes but has done so when responding to what it describes as aggression inside Israeli territory.

Israel’s military said it had discovered improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on its side of the armistice line on the Golan Heights on Tuesday.

“We are talking about three connected Claymore anti-personnel charges that were planted close to an IDF position,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters Wednesday.

“This was another attempt led by Iranian Quds forces. The actual planting of the IEDs was by Syrian locals but the guidance, instruction and control was by Iranian Quds forces,” he said.

Most Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights retain Syrian citizenship, having spurned the offer of Israeli papers.

Conricus said Israel had carried out retaliatory strikes against eight separate targets inside Syria, from the armistice line on the Golan all the way to the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus.

He said they included three Iranian command centres — a headquarters in the Damascus airport, a Quds Force base in the headquarters of Syria’s seventh army division, and a “secret military site which served as a hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations”.

“We hope now that the message is clear — that it is unacceptable that the Syrian regime allows and tolerates and facilitates the use by Iranian forces of Syria as a launchpad for attacks against Israel.”

Israel and Syria, still technically at war, have a border along the Golan Heights, which the Jewish State has occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Iran has been a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime throughout the civil war that erupted after the brutal repression of anti-government protests and has killed more than 380,000 people.

– Pompeo visit –

The airstrikes came hours before Pompeo was to land in Israel, for talks on Iran that are likely to focus on Israeli fears of a softer policy towards Iran after the Trump administration hands over to Democrat Joe Biden in January.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Trump his country’s strongest-ever ally in the White House, has heaped praised on the administration for its hardline approach towards Iran.

Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic has included sanctions and scrapping of the nuclear deal agreed between Tehran and world powers during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Israeli experts have said Netanyahu is concerned that the president-elect, Obama’s former vice president, will seek to re-engage Iran diplomatically, possibly by restoring the 2015 nuclear deal Trump pulled the US out of.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdellatif al-Zayani was also due in Israel for the first visit by a senior official of the Gulf Arab state since it signed a normalisation deal with Israel on September 15.

The deal was condemned as a betrayal by Iran and its regional allies.

-AFP

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, Dies At 79

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 23, 2020 Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem holds a press conference on new US sanctions imposed on the country, in the capital Damascus. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Muallem, died November 16, 2020 at dawn at the age of 79, the government announced on state television. LOUAI BESHARA / AFP

 

 

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, a stalwart of Bashar al-Assad’s regime who held his job through a decade of conflict and several reshuffles, died Monday at the age of 79.

The veteran diplomat, who had been foreign minister since 2006, started his career in the diplomatic service in 1964.

In 2012, a year after Syria’s deadly conflict started, he was also made deputy prime minister.

The government announcement did not specify the cause of his death but his health was understood to be deteriorating for some time.

His last public appearance was at the end of last week in Damascus for the opening of a conference on refugee returns. He looked weak and was helped into the hall by two men.

In press conferences, he was known for his mocking stances against the West, which he accused of conspiring to start Syria’s conflict.

He was targeted by US sanctions as early as August 2011, less than six months after the eruption of protests demanding regime change — demonstrations that the Syrian authorities brutally repressed.

Muallem has “continued to beat this drum of international conspiracy and has attempted to cover up the regime’s horrific activities by making claims that terrorists or others were responsible,” Washington said at the time.

During more than half a century in the foreign service, he held posts in Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

He was appointed ambassador to Romania in 1975, five years after Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez came to power.

Muallem was Syria’s envoy in Washington throughout the 1990s and also led Damascus’ peace talks with Israel during that same period.

Muallem was a father of three children.

-AFP

WFP Warns 2.2 Million More Syrians Risk Hunger

 

 

Around 2.2 million Syrians risk joining the fast swelling ranks of the hungry and poor in war-torn Syria, the World Food Programme warned Monday.

“Without urgent help 2.2 million more could slip further into hunger and poverty,” WFP said in a statement on Twitter.

The UN agency said in May that a record 9.3 million people in Syria were food insecure, as spiralling prices and the novel coronavirus pandemic compound the damage of the country’s nine-year war.

That figure had leapt from 7.9 million six months earlier.

Most of Syria’s population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, and food prices have doubled over the past year.

In that same period, Syrians in government-held areas have faced a fuel crisis, a plummeting Syrian pound on the black market and steep price hikes.

Damascus has blamed Western sanctions for its struggling economy.

But analysts have pointed to other factors, including a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, long a conduit for dollars to Damascus-held areas under sanctions.

The conflict has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions more from their homes since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Syrian Talks Resume Despite COVID-19 Cases – UN

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on September 5, 2018, Palestinian school children raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. HAZEM BADER / AFP.

 

UN-backed talks on a new constitution for Syria resumed in Geneva on Thursday after Swiss health authorities gave the green light despite four delegates testing positive for Covid-19.

The discussions, aimed at rewriting the war-torn country’s constitution, were put on hold almost as soon as they started on Monday when the test results came through.

UN envoy Geir Pedersen, who is moderating the tentative talks between representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the opposition and civil society, has voiced hope they could pave the way towards a broader political process.

His office said in a statement that “following additional testing and further medical and expert advice regarding four earlier positive tests for Covid-19”, Swiss authorities had determined the meeting could go ahead at the UN Palais des Nations. They resumed at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT).

The committee members — 15 each from the government, the opposition and from civil society — were tested for the new coronavirus before they travelled to Geneva, and were tested again on arrival in the Swiss city.

The positive second tests were found among delegates who arrived from Damascus, opposition negotiations leader Hadi al-Bahra told a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.

One opposition delegate, one from civil society and two representing the government, tested positive, he said.

Pedersen said further testing in recent days “indicates that the earlier positive cases do not pose any risk,” adding though that “out of an abundance of caution”, the talks would proceed at the UN “only with those who have tested negative.”

He stressed strict precautions would be followed during the talks.

The discussions had been scheduled to wrap up Friday, but Pedersen said the plan now was to extend the talks into Saturday.

He said committee delegates seemed eager to resume dialogue as “a signal of the importance of this process.”

He hailed a “constructive” first meeting on Monday, and said delegates appeared keen to have “substantive discussions” for the remainder of the week.

The Constitutional Committee was created in September last year and first convened a month later.

Disagreement on the agenda prevented a second round of planned talks from taking place in late November. The pandemic has delayed them ever since.

The United Nations has been striving for more than nine years to nurture a political resolution to Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced more than 11 million.

AFP

Syria Constitution Talks Under Way At UN

 

Members of Syria’s Constitutional Committee, tasked with amending their war-torn country’s constitution, met at the UN in Geneva on Monday for the first time since a failed attempt at talks last November.

Delegations from President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the opposition and civil society arrived at the United Nations in separate minivans, with all delegates wearing facemasks, to start a week of discussions.

Ahmad Al-Kuzbari, who is heading the government delegation, and Hadi Al-Bahra, leading up the opposition, both waved as they entered the building but delegates did not speak to reporters.

A UN spokeswoman confirmed shortly before noon that the week-long session had begun.

UN special envoy for Syria Gail Pedersen said Sunday he had met with co-chairs of the government and opposition delegations and with civil society representatives over the weekend.

“I am looking forward to a week of substantial discussions on the agenda and moving the process forward,” the Norwegian diplomat said on Twitter.

The full constitutional review committee is made up of 150 delegates divided equally three ways into government, opposition and civil society groups.

But only 15 members from each of those groups were due to take part in this week’s small-scale meeting.

The Constitutional Committee was created in September last year and first convened a month later.

A second round of talks, planned for late November, never got going after disagreement on the agenda prevented government and opposition negotiators from meeting.

Since then talks have been delayed by the coronavirus crisis.

The UN has been striving for more than nine years to try to help find a political resolution to Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 380,000 people and has displaced more than 11 million.

Constitutional review is a central part of the UN’s peace plan for Syria, which was defined by Security Council resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015.

Pedersen on Friday stressed the urgent need to build confidence between the parties.

He told reporters nobody expected “a miracle or a breakthrough”; rather the meeting is about looking towards identifying areas where progress might be made.

AFP

Syria Devalues Currency As New US Sanctions Hit

A boy pays a merchant with a Turkish lira banknote at a shop in the town of Jindayris, in the Afrin region of the northern Syrian rebel-held province of Aleppo, on June 10, 2020. Rami al SAYED / AFP.

 

Syria’s central bank devalued the Syrian pound on Wednesday giving in to weeks of depreciation on the black market as new US sanctions took effect.

The central bank raised the official exchange rate from 704 to 1,256 Syrian pounds to the dollar, in a statement published on its social media pages.

The previous rate had been in force since March.

Earlier this month, the war-torn country’s currency hit a record low on the black market of around 3,000 pounds to the dollar, sparking rare protests, before appreciating slightly after an apparent injection of dollars.

On Wednesday, the rate on the parallel market stood at around 2,600 to 2,800 pounds to the dollar, traders told AFP.

The devaluation comes as the United States prepares to implement new sanctions this week under the Caesar Act, targeting foreigners doing business with the Damascus government, as well as reconstruction of the country.

Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank, said the central bank was trying to minimise the gap between the official and black market rates.

“It is trying to encourage people to use the official channel instead of the black market,” he said.

But the pound would probably continue its slide, punctuated by short periods of appreciation, he said.

Syria’s economy has been battered by nine years of war, and is now reeling from the knock-on effects of a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon that has stemmed the flow of dollars into government-held areas.

Analysts have said the recent lows on the black market are likely due to worries ahead of the introduction of new US sanctions, and the sudden fall from grace of tycoon and cousin of the president, Rami Makhlouf, which has set other top businessmen on edge.

The Damascus government has long blamed the country’s economic crisis on international sanctions.

Last week, President Bashar al-Assad sacked his prime minister of four years after criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis.

Before the conflict, the exchange rate stood at 47 Syrian pounds to the dollar.

Syria Bans Public Prayers During Eid

File photo of a mosque in the Iranian capital Tehran’s Shemiran district. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

 

Syria will not hold public prayers during Eid al-Fitr holidays at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, authorities announced Monday, mirroring restrictions in Egypt and Algeria.

Inviting the faithful to pray at home with family, Damascus announced “the suspension of collective prayer in mosques for Eid,” state news agency SANA reported.

The decision by the legal committee of the ministry of religious endowments was aimed at restricting the spread of the new coronavirus.

Damascus has reported 58 cases and three deaths from the COVID-19 respiratory disease in areas of Syria under government control.

Eid al-Fitr is traditionally celebrated by morning prayers in mosques, family visits and large public gatherings.

On May 14, Syrian authorities banned public assemblies during the religious holiday, including at fairs popular with children, and imposed a nighttime curfew from 7.30 pm.

Egypt plans to tighten its curfew during Eid to combat the spread of the virus, as businesses and public transport remain closed.

Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s leading institution in Cairo, has authorised the suspension of mass prayers at mosques.

Algeria has also ordered specific virus control measures during Eid al-Fitr.

AFP

Syria War Records Lowest Monthly Death Toll In 9 Years

A Syrian walks on the rubble of a building following a regime airstrike on Ariha town in Syria’s last major opposition bastion of Idlib on January 15, 2020. Regime airstrikes on Syria’s last major opposition bastion killed at least nine civilians Wednesday, striking bustling areas of Idlib city despite a fresh Russian-sponsored truce, a war monitor said. Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP

 

The war in Syria killed 103 civilians in March, marking the lowest monthly non-combatant death toll since the start of the conflict in 2011, a war monitor said Wednesday.

Of the total deaths, some 51 people were killed in shelling and airstrikes by the Syrian regime, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The bulk of the remaining casualties were caused either by explosive remnants or mysterious “assassinations”, the Observatory added.

The civilian death toll was more than double that of March in February, when a regime offensive on Syria’s last major rebel bastion was still in full swing.

According to the Observatory, the number of deaths that month stood at 275.

The war in Syria has left more than 380,000 people dead since it started nine years ago.

The highest civilian death toll recorded in a month since the start of the conflict was 1,590 in July 2016, when battles between rebels and the regime raged in the northern province of Aleppo.

READ ALSO: China Lockdown May Have Blocked 700,000 Coronavirus Cases – Research

Damascus in early March paused a military offensive on rebels and jihadists in Syria’s northwest, after a ceasefire brokered by regime ally Russia came into effect.

The Moscow-backed campaign had displaced nearly a million people in the region since December, piling pressure on informal settlements already brimming with families forced to flee previous bouts of violence.

The fate of the displaced has been a key concern of aid groups amid an outbreak in the country of the novel coronavirus, which has killed two and infected eight others.

The United Nations has appealed for a nation-wide ceasefire to tackle the novel coronavirus threat, while aid groups have warned of a health catastrophe if the pandemic hits overcrowded displacement camps or crammed regime prisons.

AFP

Syria Reports First Case Of Coronavirus

A member of the Syrian Civil Defence known as the "White Helmets" disinfects a hospital room, as part of preventive measures taken against infections by the novel coronavirus, in the Syrian town of Dana, east of the Turkish-Syrian border in the northwestern Idlib province, on March 22, 2020.  AAREF WATAD / AFP
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence known as the “White Helmets” disinfects a hospital room, as part of preventive measures taken against infections by the novel coronavirus, in the Syrian town of Dana, east of the Turkish-Syrian border in the northwestern Idlib province, on March 22, 2020. AAREF WATAD / AFP

 

The Syrian government has announced the first case of the novel coronavirus in the war-torn country, days after starting measures to stem the spread of the pandemic.

Health minister Nizar Yaziji late Sunday said authorities had recorded “a first case of the coronavirus in Syria in a person coming from abroad,” without specifying the country.

“The appropriate measures have been taken to deal with” the female patient aged around 20, state news agency SANA reported him as telling journalists.

The Damascus authorities have over the past week increasingly taken measures to prevent a spread of the deadly virus.

They have ordered schools, universities, restaurants, cinemas and events halls to close, and suspended prayer gatherings.

They have also stopped work or downsized staff in government institutions, and transport between provinces is to come to a halt from Tuesday.

Last week, Damascus postponed parliamentary polls scheduled for next month until further notice.

After nine years of a war that has killed more than 380,000 people and ravaged the country’s infrastructure, fears are high that a COVID-19 outbreak in the country would have devastating consequences, especially in areas outside regime control.

These include the last major rebel bastion of Idlib in the northwest, and the Kurdish-held northeast.

A World Health Organization spokesman earlier this month warned that Syria’s “fragile health systems may not have the capacity to detect and respond” to what is now a pandemic.

 

AFP

Turkey Downs Syria Warplane, Kills Pilot

(FILES) A Syrian Aero L-39 Albatros war plane drops a payload above buildings across the border in Syria during air strikes backing a Syrian-government-led offensive in the southern province of Quneitra.  JALAA MAREY / AFP

 

A Turkish fighter jet Tuesday downed a Syrian regime warplane in the northwestern Idlib province and the pilot was killed, a monitoring group said.

It was the third such downing in three days amid escalating fighting between Turkish forces and Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed regime.

A missile fired by Syrian regime forces on the city of Idlib, meanwhile, killed nine civilians in the province of the same name that is Syria’s last opposition bastion.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have since December battled to retake the jihadist-dominated stronghold, where Ankara backs some rebel groups.

The deadly offensive has caused almost a million people to flee their homes and shelters, and triggered a direct Turkish military intervention last week.

A Turkish F-16 downed the regime plane over Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor and a source at the Turkish defence ministry said.

The Britain-based monitor said it was not clear if the pilot was killed during the downing or afterwards by opposition fighters, and that his body was mutilated.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a military source as confirming one of its planes was downed, after two others suffered the same fate on Sunday.

“One of our warplanes carrying out a mission in southern Idlib… was hit by a missile fired by Turkish regime forces, leading to its downing,” the source said.

The Turkish ministry said the regime plane was a L-39.

Also on Tuesday, a surface-to-surface missile fired by regime forces hit an Idlib residential neighbourhood, killing nine civilians including five children, the Observatory said.

That brings the civilian death toll since December to more than 470, according to the monitor.

Damascus meanwhile also claimed it had downed a Turkish drone near the town of Saraqeb, two days after it said it had hit three other unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Turkish operation comes after an air strike on Thursday blamed on Damascus killed 34 Turkish soldiers in the region.

The Observatory says Turkish bombardment — mostly drone strikes — has killed 119 regime soldiers and 20 allied fighters since.

On Sunday, Damascus closed its air space over northwest Syria and threatening to shoot down any “enemy” aircraft violating it.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Turkey To Continue Military Operation Against Syrian Regime

Turkey on Sunday announced the launch of an offensive against the Moscow-backed Syrian regime, as Ankara put pressure on Europe by opening its border for migrants to seek passage to the continent via Greece.

Tensions have soared between Russia and Turkey — who back opposing forces in Syria’s civil war — after an airstrike blamed on Damascus killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib last week.

Turkish and Syrian military exchanged fire over the weekend with Syrian forces targetting a Turkish drone and artillery and Ankara claiming to have shot down two Syrian fighter jets.

The situation in rebel-held Idlib was already volatile as the regime supported by Russian air power pressed an assault on the region, killing hundreds of civilians, in a bid to retake the last opposition enclave in an eight-year civil war.

The confrontation between the Russia-backed Syrian military and NATO-member Turkey, which supports Syrian rebels, has prompted worries over a wider conflict and a migrant crisis in Europe similar to 2015.

Migrant numbers have already surged along the rugged frontier after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking to pressure the EU over Syria, said the country had “opened the doors” to Europe.

Greece said Sunday it has blocked nearly 10,000 migrants at its border with Turkey.

As migrant boats continued to land on Greek islands, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced the first confirmation of a full and continuing operation against Damascus.

“Following the heinous attack on February 27 in Idlib, operation ‘Spring Shield’ successfully continues,” Akar said in a video shared by the defence ministry.

Turkish forces hit Syrian regime positions after Erdogan warned Damascus would “pay a price” for the air strike that killed 34 Turkish troops inside Idlib on Thursday.

Under a 2018 deal with Russia meant to bring calm to Idlib, Turkey has 12 observation posts in Syria — but several have come under fire from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Turkey on Friday said it retaliated by hitting more than 200 Syria regime targets in drone and artillery bombardments.

Turkey wants the international community to establish a no-fly zone over Idlib, where Islamist fighters backed by Ankara pose the biggest obstacle to Damascus seizing back control over all of Syria.

Planes shot down 

Syrian state media reported that Turkey targeted two regime planes over Idlib.

SANA also reported the regime shot down a Turkish drone near the town of Saraqeb, publishing footage of an aircraft tumbling from the sky in flames. That could not be immediately confirmed.

The Turkish defence ministry confirmed one of its drones was shot down and two other anti-aircraft systems had been destroyed.

It added two SU-24 regime planes that were attacking Turkish aircraft were downed.

The latest violence has raised tensions between Moscow and Ankara, but Ankara insists Turkey did not wish to clash with Russia.

Turkish media reported on Sunday that Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet in Moscow on March 5.

Earlier on Sunday, Istanbul police detained the editor-in-chief of the Turkish version of Russia’s Sputnik website as its offices were being searched in Istanbul.

Three of its journalists were also taken to a courthouse in Ankara for questioning, likely related to a Sputnik article in English claiming Turkey’s Hatay province was “stolen” from Syria. Colonial power France ceded the southern region to Turkey in 1938.

The news website later said they had been released.

The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers spoke by telephone on Sunday, Moscow’s ministry said, to discuss preparations for the meeting between Putin and Erdogan, and the safety of the Sputnik journalists.

 Protecting borders 

Some 13,000 migrants have amassed at the Turkey-Greece border, including families with young children who spent the night in the cold, the International Organization for Migration said.

An estimated additional 2,000 migrants arrived at the Pazarkule border gate Sunday, including Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis, according to an AFP reporter.

But as the crowds rushed to enter Europe, Greek police and soldiers blocked 9,972 “illegal entrances” from entering the northeastern Evros region in the past 24 hours, a Greek government source said.

The UN refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch called for “calm and easing of tensions on the border,” as he urged countries to “refrain from the use of excessive and disproportionate force”.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday said the EU was watching “with concern” and stood ready to deploy its Frontex border guard agency.

The developments recalled events in 2015 when over a million migrants fled to Europe, mainly via Greece in what became the continent’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The EU’s commissioner for migration, Margaritis Schinas, tweeted Sunday he had requested an extraordinary meeting of EU interior ministers to discuss the situation.

Erdogan said Turkey, home to some 3.6 million refugees, did not plan to close the borders because “the (EU) should keep its promises”.

He was referring to the 2016 deal with Brussels to stop the flow of refugees in exchange for billions of euros.

AFP

French President Macron Calls For ‘Lasting’ Syria Ceasefire

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Turkey and Russia to implement a lasting ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province in conversations with the two countries’ leaders, the Elysee said.

Moscow-backed Syrian forces have since December led a military offensive against the final major rebel stronghold, where Ankara supports some rebel groups.

Macron expressed his “very strong concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis” to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to a statement released on Saturday.

He also warned of the risk terrorist groups would spread “because of the military offensive of the Syrian regime and its allies,” adding it undermined the 2018 Idlib agreement between Russia and Turkey to create a demilitarised zone in the northwestern province.

READ ALSO: Merkel, Macron, Johnson Agree To Work Towards ‘Reducing Tensions’ In Mideast

The accord has fallen apart as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces moved to recapture the last big region outside his control.

Macron said an “immediate halt to hostilities” is needed and called on Russia and Turkey to implement a “lasting and verifiable” ceasefire as outlined in that agreement.

Russia must “end its military offensive in northwest Syria and respect international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, personnel and humanitarian access”, he added.

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a summit with Erdogan and Putin to seek an end to the crisis.

AFP