UN chief calls for immediate cease-fire in Syria's northwest

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations chief called Friday for an immediate cease-fire in Syria’s war-torn Idlib province “to avoid an uncontrollable escalation” and urged donors to contribute an additional $500 million to help hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the violence.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the unfolding crisis in northwest Syria and the terrible human toll on civilians” is now advancing into areas with the highest concentrations of people — many of them displaced — “and threatening to strangle humanitarian lifelines.”

Guterres said in a statement read to reporters that the U.N. estimates 2.8 million people in northwest Syria, the last rebel stronghold, require humanitarian assistance. This includes nearly 900,000 people — the vast majority women and children — who fled the latest Syrian offensive “under the most tragic circumstances” including young children freezing to death, he said.

For almost a year, Guterres said, Syrian ground offensives supported by Russian airstrikes have targeted what was supposed to be a de-escalation zone in Idlib, and this month Turkish and Syrian forces have clashed repeatedly.

“All of this means that in addition to a dramatic and deteriorating humanitarian situation, we face the risk of an ever-more serious confrontation with increasingly unpredictable consequences,” the secretary-general warned.

Guterres said his repeated calls for a cease-fire have been conveyed “publicly and directly to key actors.”

“The message is clear: There is no military solution to the Syria crisis. The only possible solution remains political,” he said. “This man-made humanitarian nightmare for the long-suffering people of Syria must stop. It must stop now.”

Guterres said earlier this month the U.N. thought it needed enough funds to reach 800,000 displaced people. However, he said the U.N. is now appealing for an additional $500 million from donors “to cover the needs of the newly displaced people over the next six months.”

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