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UN chief: Syria's Idlib must not be transformed into a bloodbath

UN chief appeals to all parties to desist from fighting and protect civilians trapped in rebel-held province.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on parties to the conflict in Syria to protect civilians trapped in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, saying it "must not be transformed into a bloodbath".

Guterres said on Tuesday that preventing a full-scale battle in Syria's northern Idlib province was "absolutely essential".

"This would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the blood-soaked Syrian conflict."

The UN chief said it was especially important for Syria's two main backers, Iran and Russia, to "find a way in which it is possible to isolate terrorist group and … create a situation in which civilians will not be the price paid to solve the problem in Idlib".

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its allies has been preparing a large-scale military onslaught to capture Idlib which hosts some three million people.

Air raids and shelling of southern Idlib and northern Hama provinces escalated over the past week after Moscow and Tehran rejected a Turkish ceasefire proposal at a trilateral summit held in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on September 7.

The renewed bombing campaign led to the flight of more than 30,000 people from the rebel-held areas since the beginning of this month, according to the United Nations.

In a Tuesday article published in the Wall Street Journal, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, echoed the UN's concerns about a potential humanitarian crisis, adding that an attack on the last rebel-held province would affect Turkey, Europe and beyond.

Erdogan, who met his Russian and Iranian counterparts at the Tehran summit last week, also said Russia and Iran had a responsibility to stop a potential humanitarian disaster in Idlib.

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