UNITED NATIONS — The 10 elected members of the U.N. Security Council called Wednesday for stepped up efforts to find a peaceful solution in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, where a major government offensive is expected.
The council members, who serve two-year terms, expressed deep concern that a full-scale military operation in Idlib will lead to "a humanitarian catastrophe."
In a joint statement, they urged all parties to exercise restraint, make the protection of civilians a priority, and ensure that medical and educational facilities are protected.
The 10 elected members issued their own statement because the five permanent veto-wielding council members are deeply divided with Russia and China backing President Bashar Assad's government and the U.S., Britain and France backing the opposition.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the current council president, announced that a formal Security Council meeting will be held Friday morning on the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Idlib.
It will be followed later Friday by an informal council meeting to hear from members of the Syrian opposition on Idlib's dire humanitarian situation and possible consequences of a military escalation. The 15 council members are not required to attend informal meetings.
The Security Council is scheduled to be briefed Thursday afternoon on the latest developments related to chemical weapons in Syria.
The U.S., Britain and France have vowed to take action as they have in the past against any further chemical attacks by the Assad regime.
Haley told a news conference Tuesday that if the Syrian government wants "to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they cannot do it with chemical weapons."
On Wednesday, however, she reversed course saying: "The regime and its backers must stop their military campaign in all its forms to allow the U.N.-led political process to have a chance to succeed."
"The Trump Administration and the international community have made it clear that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict," Haley said. President Bashar Assad's "brutal regime — backed by Russia and Iran — cannot continue to attack and terrorize Syria's citizens. With millions of civilians at risk, an offensive against Idlib would be a reckless escalation."