Syria truce fails as Idlib civilians killed daily: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet gives a speach during a forum on women of African descent in San Jose December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Friday for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province, saying the latest ceasefire attempt had yet again failed to protect civilians.

Turkey, which for years has backed Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, agreed a truce with Russia that was supposed to have taken hold in the bastion of 3 million people in the northwest earlier this month.

But witnesses and insurgent sources said pro-Assad Russian and Syrian jets have been hitting the province in a renewed assault. Moscow denied bombing civilians.

“It is deeply distressing that civilians are still being killed on a daily basis in missile strikes from both the air and ground,” Bachelet said in a statement.

“This agreement – as with others in the past year – has yet again failed to protect civilians.”

Her office received reports that air strikes resumed on Jan. 15, she said. Armed groups had also carried out deadly ground-based attacks.

“People are still being killed, many people, on both sides of the divide,” U.N. human rights spokesman Jeremy Laurence told a news briefing.

Since hostilities intensified in the so-called “de-escalation zone” in Idlib on April 29, U.N. monitors have verified incidents in which 1,506 civilians, including 293 women and 433 children, were killed, he said.

Around 350,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled Idlib since early December, and sought shelter in border areas near Turkey, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne

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