Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Leaders of the European Union strongly urged on Thursday an end to fighting that's harmed Syrian civilians by the hundreds in northwestern, rebel-held Idlib province.
EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell and Emergency Response Coordinator Janez Lenarcic said the 27-member bloc is concerned about ongoing fighting that's displaced a large number of Idlib residents. In a joint statement Thursday, they said the attacks "must stop."
"The intensification of military operations has resulted in the indiscriminate killings of hundreds of civilians." they said. "Attacks continue to include civilian targets in densely populated areas, medical facilities and settlements for internally displaced people."
An assault by Syrian government forces that began in December has so far led nearly 520,000 Idlib residents to flee their homes, the World Health Organization said this week. Neighboring Turkey has denied entry, effectively leaving them to dodge the violence in a combat zone.
The EU called for the establishment of an aid corridor and urged parties to the conflict to allow "unimpeded humanitarian access to people in need of assistance." It also urged the fighters respect international humanitarian laws intended to protect civilians.
"The extraordinary human suffering endured by the civilian population in northwest Syria is unacceptable," Borrell and Lenarcic said in the letter.
Turkey and Russia, which is aligned with the Syrian government, agreed to a cease-fire in Idlib province last month, but fighting has persisted.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday to retreat forces away from Turkish observation posts in Idlib by the end of February, or he will authorize his military to act. His warning came two days after seven Turkish soldiers and a civilian contractor were killed in a Syrian attack against rebel positions.