Former US ambassador to Syria: Idlib is ‘worst case scenario’

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A top diplomat in the Obama administration is calling on the U.S. and NATO to push for a cease-fire between Turkey and Russia in Syria, saying the battles in the Idlib province are resulting in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

“Idlib is the worst case scenario we have worried about in Syria since 2011,” said Robert Ford, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2010 to 2014, during a briefing Thursday on Capitol Hill.

While Idlib is considered one of the last rebel strongholds, the conflict is largely being waged between state actors and the fighting between Turkey and Russia is escalating, with at least 15 Turkish soldiers killed from Russian airstrikes.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is publicly asking the U.S. for Patriot missiles to counter Russian firepower.

Ford said if fighting in Idlib crosses over to the border with Turkey, NATO members would be faced with considering assisting Turkey against Russia under Article V of the NATO treaty.

“Turkey, I think, is seeking assurances from NATO that if Russian or Syrian forces attack Turkish forces inside the Turkish border… under article V of the treaty, it can request assistance from fellow members of the alliance,” Ford said.

“I think the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has never seen fighting of this intensity this close to the border of a member state. This is new. Idlib is in so many ways unprecedented.”

More than 1 million civilians have been caught up in the fighting and are in need of assistance — 900,000 people are without permanent shelter after being displaced multiple times from fighting across the country. Many refugees in the area had fled fighting in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Daraa and elsewhere over the course of the 9-year war.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock told U.N. officials Wednesday that “nowhere is safe” for civilians, with almost 50,000 “sheltering under trees or in other open spaces” and in freezing temperatures.

Lowcock appealed for $500 million in immediate humanitarian assistance.

Ford on Thursday called on President Trump and Congress to increase humanitarian assistance out of a desperate need for relief.

“We need more humanitarian aid, and the United States is the largest donor, but we have to ask for more because it is the worst case scenario,” he said.

The ambassador was joined by representatives from organizations involved in Syrian aid work, many of whom had recently returned from providing humanitarian relief in the region.

“What I would like all Americans to know is that this is not just another problem in Syria, the scale is much greater,” Ford said. “The scale is much greater than anything the world has seen in recent decades.”

Nihad Awad, national executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaking on Capitol Hill, called on the U.S. and international community to make Syria a priority.

“The biggest crisis we should never be numb to is the Syrian crisis,” he said. “I blame myself for becoming numb for some time.”

Other organizations represented included the Muslim Public Affairs Council; the American Relief Coalition for Syria; Syrian American Council; Human Rights Watch; Medglobal, which provides medical treatment in conflict zones; Emgage Action, the American Muslim Political Action Committee and the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

Tags Civil War Donald Trump Humanitarian aid Syria

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