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Switzerland urges talks as violence rises in Syria’s Idlib

Switzerland’s foreign affairs ministry is “deeply concerned” by the escalation of violence in northwest Syria and urges the warring parties to return to the negotiating table.

Russia-backed Syrian government forces have recently intensified their bombardment of rebel-held territory in Idlib, a Syrian province bordering Turkey.

“The offensive launched just a few days ago has serious consequences for the already suffering civilian population in this region,” the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement published on Wednesday.

As the Syrian government regained territory held by the armed opposition over the past couple of years, Idlib saw its pre-war population of 1.5 million double in size. Civilians and insurgents defeated elsewhere in the country have settled in Idlib, a jihadist hub and the final pocket beyond the control of the Damascus regime.

The Swiss foreign ministry urged the guarantors of Idlib’s so-called “de-escalation zone”  to do “their utmost to respect international law, in particular international humanitarian law, and to work to end the fighting.”

At the Russian resort town of Sochi in September 2018, Ankara and Moscow agreed to be guarantors of a buffer zone separating the Syrian army from rebels at frontlines in and around Idlib.

According to the United Nations, hundreds of civilians have already been killed by air raids and more than 150,000 people have been forced to flee.

In addition, many civilians are encircled and cannot reach safety due to the fighting. Several hospitals and schools have been hit and destroyed in aerial attacks.

“A resumption of the United Nations peace process in Geneva is essential to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people,” the ministry statement concluded. “Only in this way can a lasting, broad-based peace be achieved for Syria, which guarantees the rights of all Syrians.”

The UN-sponsored effort to end the war in Syria has been overtaken by the Russian-led Astana process over the past 18 months.  Peace has proved elusive despite the multiple rounds of talks held in Geneva and the Kazakh capital.