E.U. wants Russia, Turkey, Iran to protect civilians in Idlib province of Syria

The U.N. says an estimated 3 million people are caught in the crossfire.

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By Reuters

BRUSSELS — The European Union called for a cease-fire Wednesday in Syria's Idlib province and said Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian government must protect civilians under siege.

Fighting has raged in Idlib and surrounding areas since Syrian troops started pushing into the enclave on April 30. The province in northwest Syria is last major stronghold of rebels who have fought against President Bashar al-Assad's government since 2011.

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Syrian government bombing has killed dozens in the past three weeks, with Damascus saying it is responding to attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants. Conquering Idlib would allow Assad to declare final victory over armed opposition groups.

A victim is carried from a destroyed building after an airstrike by Syrian government forces in the town of Ariha in Idlib province on Tuesday.White Helmets / AP

In a statement, top E.U. diplomat Federica Mogherini and the bloc's humanitarian aid chief Christos Stylianides demanded Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran "fulfill immediately their responsibilities and commitments, and ensure the immediate protection of civilians."

It added: "Indiscriminate attacks on women and children and other civilians, their displacement, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure cannot be justified under any circumstances."

The U.N. says an estimated 3 million people are caught in the crossfire.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for Syria, said the Trump administration has found "overwhelming international support for an immediate cease-fire in Idlib, and this international support is only growing."

The eight-year Syrian conflict that has killed more than 400,000 people and left Syria isolated in the West and elsewhere.

Associated Press contributed.