Saturday, 22 September, 2018

Russian jets obliterate HTS sites in preparation for ground push in Idlib

A boy tries on an improvised gas mask amid fears of a chemical attack in Idlib Syria on Sept. 3 A boy tries on an improvised gas mask amid fears of a chemical attack in Idlib Syria on Sept. 3
Leonard Rios | 09 September, 2018, 08:02

"Millions of innocent people in Idlib province are now under the threat of imminent attack from the Assad regime, backed by Iran and Russian Federation, under the pretense of targeting ISIS", Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement accompanying the new sanctions.

In addition to opposition forces who have sworn to fight to the death, Idlib is also home to nearly 3 million civilians who will be caught up in the battle.

Erdogan said it is crucial to maintain Idlib's current status and argued the USA offers support to "terrorist groups" in Syria.

The intense air raids came a day after Iran and Russian Federation backed a military campaign in the rebel-held area despite Turkey's pleas for a ceasefire.

It came a day after a summit of the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation failed to agree on a ceasefire aimed at preventing a looming military operation.

Early on Friday, a series of air strikes struck villages in southwest Idlib, targeting insurgent posts and killing a fighter, said Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Turkey has troops and 12 observations points that circle Idlib.

Syrian state media said the attacks on Saturday were a retaliation to overnight shelling from rebel-held areas on a government-held town in Hama province, south of Idlib, that killed nine civilians. "If they do so, the regime can not take the area at an acceptable cost, and Idlib becomes a de-facto Turkish zone". "Any attack on Idlib would result in a catastrophe".

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Turkey proposing to evacuate Syrian rebels from Idlib, says report
Assad's government has been massing thousands of troops in preparation for an assault. It's a crucial target for President Bashar al Assad .

"The fires of war and bloodshed in Syria are reaching their end", Rouhani said, while adding that terrorism must "be uprooted in Syria, particularly in Idlib".

For Russia and Iran retaking Idlib is crucial to complete a military victory in the rebellion against Assad. And in a sign of the administration's shrinking commitment to Syria, it has pulled more than $200 million in stabilization funding for liberated areas, telling other nations they should step up to pay.

A Syrian government offensive on Idlib could be the seven-year-long war's last decisive battle.

A Syrian woman sits on a straw mat next to children outside a tent at a camp for displaced civilians fleeing from advancing government forces near the village of Sarman in the rebel-held northwestern Idlib province, September 1, 2018.

France's top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib. Turkey's relations with the opposition made it a key partner with Russian Federation and Iran in their efforts to end the Syrian civil war under the so-called "Astana Process". A report from the Guardian's Martin Chulov quoted a Kurdish leader as saying that a small number of the US-backed Kurdish Arab militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - ostensibly Kurds - had made their way to join Syrian forces in the impending fight for Idlib. At least one person was killed and several others wounded.

There was no immediate word about the clashes from the government. But in recent days, the Damascus government announced that it will be holding local administration elections, including in Kurdish-ruled areas, undermining the negotiations with the Kurds and their proposal for self-rule. They seized the territories, with the backing of the US-led coalition, after driving out ISIS militants.

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