ANKARA: Syria’s Bashar Assad on Monday made a TV pledge to press on with his military campaign to take full control of Aleppo as the UN called for an immediate cease-fire to prevent “the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century.”
Assad’s forces claimed to have taken complete control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside following advances that have resulted in the displacement of 900,000 people.
In a rare televised address, Assad said that the one-time economic hub of Aleppo would “return stronger than it was before,” and vowed complete victory “sooner or later.”
The ongoing campaign has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe, which the UN’s head of humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, warned had “reached a horrifying level.”
In a statement, he said the UN believed 900,000 civilians had been displaced since Dec. 1, most of them women and children.
In the past few weeks, regime troops backed by Russian air power have captured more than 1,500 sq. km. of ground in the northwest of the country.
Lowcock described the violence taking place in northwest Syria as “indiscriminate” and stressed that “the only option is a cease-fire.”
He warned that “the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century will only be avoided if (UN) Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first.”
He did not identify any countries, but the message appeared directed first and foremost at Russia.
The regime also announced the reopening of Aleppo international airport. Regime forces have also opened the international roadway from northern Aleppo to the towns of Zahraa and Nubl toward the Turkish border. Their rapid advances have sparked rare clashes between Syria and Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged Assad to halt the advance, which also risks shattering an alliance forged between Turkey and Russia. A Turkish delegation was in Moscow on Monday to discuss the crisis, and Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the delegations would continue talking on Tuesday.
During Monday’s session, the Turkish delegation “stressed the need to quickly reduce tensions on the field and to prevent the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation,” the ministry said.
Yoruk Isik, an Istanbul-based expert on Turkey-Russia relations, predicted a period of de-escalation in Idlib in the coming few months after the conclusion of consultations between the parties.
He told Arab News that Russian President Vladimir Putin had deliberately stayed away from such negotiations to push Ankara into direct talks with the Assad regime. Isik expected Turkey to withdraw from five observation points in Idlib.
He also said the creation of a buffer zone along the Turkish border was also likely so that Turkey could manage to settle hundreds of thousands of displaced people to Syria’s Afrin province, which would completely change the demography of the region.