U.S. Demand for Syria Ceasefire Ignored As Turkey and Russia Vow to Continue War's Final Battle

The American call for a ceasefire in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib has fallen on deaf ears with Russia and Turkey both vowing to continue what appears to be the last battle of the nine-year war, despite the "horrifying" humanitarian crisis unfolding there, as the United Nations has described it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday there is no military solution to the fighting in Idlib, which is the only major area of Syria that remains outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

The region was home to some 3 million people before the regime launched its latest offensive in December, half of them refugees that fled fighting elsewhere in Syria. The area is largely controlled by Islamist militias, the strongest of which is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham which was formerly allied with Al-Qaeda.

More than 900,000 people have left their homes as Syrian forces push into Idlib backed by Russian airstrikes.

Rebels in Idlib are being supported by Turkish troops, deployed to deter the regime advance and—according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—prevent a huge wave of refugees attempting to cross the northern border into Turkey.

Turkish troops have been killed and wounded by regime and Russian attacks, while Syrian soldiers have also died in Turkish operations.

Officials in Russia and Turkey have maintained an uncompromising line despite the casualties and the risk of sparking a wider conflict.

On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any ceasefire would be akin to "capitulating before terrorists." He accused some governments of "a desire to justify outrageous acts committed by radical and terrorist" groups.

And on Wednesday, Erdogan said his forces in Idlib "will not take the smallest step back." He also vowed to "push the regime outside the borders" of the region and said Turkey remains "determined."

Erdogan warned that his forces intend to recapture observation posts overrun by regime forces, whether the Syrian army retreats back to its original positions or not. "We neither have an eye on Syria's territory or its oil," he added.

"We are not looking for adventures outside our borders. On the contrary, we are putting up a fight in order to maintain security along our borders."

Pompeo on Tuesday condemned Assad's "brutal new aggression there, cynically backed by Moscow and Tehran." He warned, "The regime will not be able to obtain military victory. The regime's offensive only heightens the risk of conflict with our NATO ally Turkey."

Instead, both sides must agree to a "permanent ceasefire and U.N.-led negotiations," Pompeo added. The Secretary of State noted that the U.S. is "working together with Turkey on seeing what we can do together."

Idlib, Syria, Russia, US, Turkey, ceasefire
A picture taken on February 24, 2020, shows smoke billowing over the village of Qaminas, southeast of Idlib city, following reported Syrian air strikes. MOHAMMED AL-RIFAI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty