United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “very much alarmed” by reports of clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops in northwest Syria.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday that Guterres sees the clashes as a “threat to the peace and security in the region.”
“This escalation underscores once again the threat to regional and international peace and security caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria,” Dujarric quoted the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as saying.
The rare direct confrontation between the Turkish-Syrian forces in the Idlib region was initiated late on Sunday by a Syrian shelling in the town of Saraqeb, in which eight Turkish soldiers were killed.
Turkey responded in kind to the attacks, reportedly killing 35 Syrian government soldiers on Monday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged further retaliation, saying up to 40 Syrian targets were being considered as part of the operation.
Erdogan also warned Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict, to “not stand in Turkey’s way.”
“We told the Russian authorities you are not party to this, it is totally the regime and do not stand in our way. Because we have martyrs, we cannot remain silent. We will continue to respond, including with our F-16s, our howitzers, our artillery, it is all in the field firing on the targets determined by our national intelligence,” Erdogan said.
Russia, however, has pinned the blame on a lack of information for which the Turkish side was responsible.
“Turkish troops were changing locations at night in the Idlib de-escalation zone without informing the Russian side,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The Turkish defense ministry claimed the opposite, saying the Turkish troops came under heavy artillery fire from the Syrian government, despite Ankara having given prior notification of its soldiers’ whereabouts.
The UN chief said they were trying to hold diplomatic talks at various levels in a bid to de-escalate the conflict.
Guterres also emphasized the need for an immediate end to hostilities, affirming that “no attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure should take place.”
“We also remain deeply concerned by the continuing reports of civilian casualties and the large-scale displacement of civilians, resulting from the current Syrian government offensive inside the Idlib de-escalation zone,” the UN spokesman added.
Dujarric said the UN is concerned about more than three million civilians, over half of whom are internally displaced, following Russian-Syrian airstrikes and shelling in the Idlib region.
There were at least 25 communities affected by artillery shelling, and 47 communities impacted by airstrikes, between January 31 and February 2, the spokesperson said.
Since December 2019, more than 500,000 people, around 80 percent of whom are women and children, have been displaced due to the hostilities, according to Dujarric.
The secretary-general was quoted as saying that there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict. The only way to the resolution was a credible and inclusive UN-facilitated political solution, the UN chief said.
Ankara, which backs the rebels, has twelve military outposts in the region in line with previous Astana and Sochi agreements concluded with Russia and Iran.
The agreements and many subsequent ceasefire attempts remained inconclusive in Idlib, as the parties of the conflict accuse each other of not fulfilling their tasks.
Ankara has refused to leave the observation outposts in Idlib, while the regime of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad views them with hostility.
In December, the Syrian forces surrounded one of the Turkish posts in a move that nearly opened a new front in the conflict.