Syria, Russia pound Idlib as northern assault begins ahead of peace talks

Clay Curtis
February 18, 2020

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday was the latest to warn Damascus against an all-out offensive against a region the United Nations says is home to almost three million people.

The future of Syria is being debated between Iran, Russia and Turkey as their leaders meet in Tehran on Friday.

The US has little leverage to stop Russia, Iran and Syria pressing ahead with a massive military assault against Syria's northwest Idlib province.

On Tuesday, the United Nations peace envoy for Syria urged Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin to speak on the phone before Friday's summit.

Staffan de Mistura called for efforts "to avoid that the last probably major battle of the Syrian territorial conflict. ends in a bloodbath".

The regime holds a small southeastern sliver.

The Syrian local journalist added that "Turkey has shut down it border while its checkpoints along the border line with Syria prevent any infiltrations of residents to its territories, and if the regime military operations are escalated, we will be facing a real catastrophe as there is one million civilians in those areas, mostly are displaced from other regions in Syria".

Nonetheless, Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani will be making decisions on what could be a turning point in a seven-year-old war which has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.

According to some analysts Iran, Russia and Turkey have come to believe that the battle of Idlib is decisive in setting the stage for solving the Syrian crisis.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 68 air raids and 19 barrel bombs dropped on several towns and villages in Idlib and Hama provinces in less than three hours on Saturday.

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Russian Federation and the Syrian regime have accused Idlib as being a "nest of terrorists" and a "festering abscess" that must be resolved.

Moscow said four of its jets "inflicted strikes by high-precision weapons" on targets belonging to HTS.

Trinity University history professor David Lesch told VOA that while the Trump administration is "ratcheting up the pressure a little bit" beyond its previous warnings against a chemical attack, USA influence on what happens in Idlb is limited. Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has been sharpening its talk of retaking Idlib in the past month.

Russian planes are based at the Hmeimim airbase in Latakia province, a coastal regime stronghold adjacent to Idlib.

On Wednesday, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Idlib was the "subject of increased concern and worry" and was the focus of a flurry of diplomacy.

The meeting between President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani kicked off in Iran's Tehran, Turkish media reported September 7. "I think Russian Federation and the Syrian government and their allies are dead set on taking over Idlib, either in a phased way or in an all-out massive invasion", Lesch said.

Ayatollah Khamenei has also told Putin that USA sanctions against Russia, Iran and Turkey creates a strong common reason for expanding cooperation; including trade without using the US dollar.

A United Nations team takes samples from the scene of a suspected chemical weapon attack, in the Damascus countryside in August 2013. "They've got very complex relations with Turkey, they don't want to see tens, hundreds of thousands of people flooding into Turkey".

Mr Jeffrey said a "major diplomatic initiative" was now needed, and there was "a new commitment" by President Donald Trump to remain involved in Syria until the Islamic State group (IS) was defeated and Iranian fighters left the country.

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