May 22, 2019 / 3:38 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. envoy Jeffrey calls for ceasefire in Syria's Idlib

FILE PHOTO: U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey (R) attends a meeting during the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 14, 2018. Xu Jinquan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A ceasefire is needed in Syria’s Idlib province where there has been a recent upsurge in violence, and the United States is working towards halting the clashes, which have put tremendous pressure on civilians there, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey said on Wednesday.

“What we really need in Idlib and throughout the country is a ceasefire,” Jeffrey, U.S. special representative for Syria engagement and special envoy to the global coalition to defeat the ISIS militant group, said at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

“These conflicts, back and forth exchanges....just put tremendous pressure on civilians, they raise the spectre of nation-to-nation clash,” he said. “So we’re very much engaged in trying to get this stopped and get it back to the ceasefire we had basically since September.”

At least 180,000 people have fled an upsurge in violence in northwest Syria, the last major stronghold of rebels who have fought against President Bashar al-Assad’s government since 2011. Government bombing has killed dozens in the past three weeks.

The latest clashes mark the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and his rebel enemies in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.

The region, home to an estimated 3 million people, including many who fled other parts of Syria as government forces advanced in recent years, has been partly shielded by a truce agreement since last year, brokered by Russia and Turkey. Much of the recent fighting has hit a buffer zone agreed under that deal.

The Syrian government says it is responding to attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants. The dominant insurgent faction in the region is the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), although the army offensive has not focussed on the central Idlib area where it is most concentrated, an HTS-aligned opposition figure said.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bernadette Baum

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