GENEVA: UN officials have notified Russia, Turkey and the US of the GPS coordinates of 235 schools, hospitals and other civilian sites in the Syrian province of Idlib, in the hope the move will help protect them from being attacked.
“We share these coordinates so there is no doubt that a hospital is a hospital,” Panos Moumtzis, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told a briefing.
“We would like to see civilians not targeted, hospitals not bombed, people not displaced.”
An estimated 2.9 million people live in Idlib, the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar Assad. Syrian regime and Russian warplanes began airstrikes last week in a possible prelude to a full-scale offensive.
Four hospitals in Hama and Idlib have been hit by airstrikes in the past week, constituting “serious attacks” that violate international law, Moumtzis said.
“A hospital is a hospital and has to be respected by all on the ground.”
Moumtzis called on all warring sides to ensure that civilians in Idlib were able to move freely in any direction to flee fighting or bombing, and for aid workers to have access to them. He quoted a Russian official as telling a humanitarian task force meeting in Geneva on Thursday that “every effort to find a peaceful solution to the problem is being made.” The UN is working 24/7 to ensure delivery of shelter, food and other assistance if, as feared, hundreds of thousands of people flee, he said.
“In no way am I saying we are ready. What is important is that we are doing our maximum to ensure a level of readiness,” Moumtzis said.
“As humanitarians, while we hope for the best we are preparing for the worst.”
An estimated 38,300 people have fled hostilities in Idlib this month, UN figures show.
About 4,500 of them have returned to their homes following a slight calming, Moumtzis said, calling it a “barometer.”
At least 33 people have been killed and 67 wounded in aerial and ground-based bombing, according to a partial UN toll from Sept. 4 to 9.
Moumtzis said he was going to Turkey for talks with government officials and to oversee preparations for stepping up cross-border aid deliveries to Idlib, where the UN is providing supplies to 2 million people.
Turkey has said it is working with Russia and Iran to stabilize the Idlib region, indicating continued efforts to avoid an offensive in the area.
Idlib is part of an arc of territory at the Turkish border. Turkey has reinforced 12 military observation posts in the region, and stepped up arms shipments to allied fighters.
But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, in comments on Wednesday evening, indicated that there were continued contacts with Russia and Iran for a diplomatic solution.
“We are working intensively with Russia, Iran and our allies for peace and stability to be brought to the region and for a humanitarian tragedy to be prevented,” he was quoted as saying on Thursday by the state-run news agency Anadolu.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with the leaders of Iran and Russia last week in Tehran, but failed to win a cease-fire pledge.
Already hosting 3.5 million Syrians, Turkey says it cannot take in more and has accused the West of abandoning it to the consequences of Assad’s reconquest of Syria.
“For the past three days things have been calm,” said Abdel Razzaq, a monitor for the Sentry warning service, which operates in opposition-held parts of Syria.
The UN said it was preparing to give help to 900,000 people who could flee a surge in hostilities.