U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday described an escalation in fighting in northwest Syria that killed dozens of Turkish troops as “one of the most alarming moments” of the nine-year-old war and called for an immediate ceasefire.
The U.N. Security Council is due to meet later on Friday after 33 Turkish soldiers were killed by Russian-backed Syrian government troops in the deadliest attack suffered by Turkey’s army in nearly 30 years.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russian air power, have been fighting to retake the last large, rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war. Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Idlib region in an unprecedented incursion to back the rebels.
“The most pressing need is an immediate ceasefire before the situation gets entirely out of control,” Guterres told reporters in New York. “In all my contacts with those involved, I have had one simple message: step back from the edge of escalation.”
“I also reiterate my appeal for civilian protection,” he said. “Civilians are paying the gravest price … And the noose keeps tightening, as the frontlines reach more densely populated areas.”
Nearly a million Syrians have fled over the last three months, the biggest exodus of the conflict. A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war.
Senior U.N. officials dealing with the humanitarian situation in northwest Syria on Thursday appealed for help from the 15-member Security Council, which has long been divided on how to deal with Syria. Russia had vetoed 14 draft resolutions during the war.