Fate of Syria's Idlib in balance at Tehran summit

Trump tweeted a warning to Syria and its allies — and then the Russian strikes began

Trump tweeted a warning to Syria and its allies — and then the Russian strikes began

A government assault creates a nightmare scenario of potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including militants, fleeing toward its border and destabilizing towns and cities in northern Syria under its control.

The three countries are guarantors of the Astana process, a track of negotiations launched after Russia's game-changing 2015 military intervention that has eclipsed the Western-backed Geneva negotiations led by the UN.

"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.

As part of the deal, they agreed to rout the former al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, known as HTS, from the area.

For the Syrian government and Russian Federation, the province is also strategically important because it borders Latakia Province, Assad's main stronghold and the site of Russia's biggest air base in the country as well as its naval facility. Idlib is the last major redoubt of the insurgents.

Idlib is the last stronghold of terrorists in Syria, and Moscow has been recently voicing huge concerns that the United States is apparently attempting to keep them in the area.

Neighbouring Turkey, which has long backed Syrian rebels, fears the assault could prompt an influx of desperate Syrians attempting to find safety on its territory.

Putin was to hold a meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the sidelines of the summit, according to Russian news agency TASS. They appealed to world leaders to "urgently work together to avoid this horrific scenario".

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The Tehran meetings could determine the scale and the timeline of the Idlib offensive, which the United Nations has warned may displace 800,000 people.

Jeffrey's remarks come ahead of a meeting Friday between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syrian conflict. They are also due to hold a press conference.

The US will chair a UN Security Council meeting Friday about the possible offensive.

Neighbouring Turkey has limited sway over the jihadists who control an estimated 60% of the province but it backs rebel groups there and has 12 military "observation points" across the province.

Her Iranian counterpart, Bahram Ghassemi, assured Damascus of Tehran's support and willingness to "continue its role as adviser and help" for the Idlib campaign.

"We know that the Syrian armed forces are getting ready to solve this problem", Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

Jeffrey said the U.S.is taking a tougher stance and will not tolerate an all-out attack on the region. Jeffrey said there will be a "major diplomatic initiative" to stabilize conditions in Syria in the coming weeks, but he would not describe the military mission, other than to say that they must ensure an "enduring defeat" of ISIS.

The three nations previous year declared Idlib to be a "de-escalation zone", and Turkey says the cease-fire inside Idlib must not be violated.

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