Syrian government forces attack rebel-held city

Sep 06, 2018, 00:36
Syrian government forces attack rebel-held city

A major assault would be devastating for the almost three million people living in the northwestern province, many of them rebels and civilians who were moved out of other areas as they came back under regime control.

The UN and aid groups have warned that a full assault on Idlib could spark a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not yet seen in Syria's seven-year-old conflict.

More than half of Idlib is controlled by militants from Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), while much of the rest is held by rebels backed by Turkey.

Pompeo and Cavusoglu "agreed that any Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria", said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Syrian government warplanes struck the last rebel-held province of the country Tuesday. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

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Since May 2017, Idlib has been protected by a partial ceasefire following a de-escalation agreement between Turkey, Iran, and Russian Federation.

The world had been bracing for weeks for Assad regime forces to attack Idlib, where around 2.5 million civilians are living in opposition-held territory with no clear route of escape if fighting escalates.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that at least nine civilians, including five children from the same family, were killed in the Russian raids, while 10 more people were wounded.

Moscow has accused armed groups in Idlib of sending weaponised drones to attack the Hmeimim airbase that it uses in the adjacent province of Latakia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated Russia's position, calling Idlib a "hornets' nest of terrorists".

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Russian presidential advisor Yuri Ushakov described the meeting as "very important".

The US says it will respond "swiftly and appropriately" if Syrian President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons "again", suggesting that Damascus was behind an April "attack" which Moscow says was entirely staged.

Erdogan as well as the presidents of Iran and Russian Federation will meet on Friday in Tehran for a summit expected to focus on Idlib.

"Such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people", said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, warning the United States and its allies "will respond swiftly and appropriately".

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