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UN Security Council meets to discuss expected offensive in Syria

07 September 2018

Talk of a new US strategy in Syria comes as the Trump administration is increasing its warnings ahead of a regime offensive to retake Idlib, the last major bastion of Syrian rebels.

The trilateral summit in Tehran involving Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan puts further pressure on the rebel forces still operating in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, including about 10,000 hard-core jihadists and al-Qaida-linked fighters.

They were meeting to discuss the situation in Idlib amid concerns that an expected government offensive in the northwestern province would cause severe bloodshed, major civilian casualties, and a humanitarian catastrophe. "We are not in a hurry", Jeffrey said, adding that he is "confident that the president is on board with this". Approximately 3 million civilians, including 1 million children, are trapped in the rebel-held province, and half of those have been previously displaced, according to the United Nations.

The United Nations is ringing alarm bells, predicting that an assault on Idlib would likely set in motion a refugee calamity on a scale not yet seen during the seven years of Syria's civil war.

Idlib is the insurgents' only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the war's last decisive battle.

Turkey backs numerous rebel groups in the province but recently moved toward its negotiating partners in declaring that the Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, is a "terrorist organization" that should be eliminated.

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"The Security Council can not accept that the civilians of Idlib must face this type of fate".

Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a senior aide to Iran's foreign minister, told state TV on Thursday the final statement for the summit had already been "finalized" by senior representatives of the three countries.

The plan will also secure the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia province and mineral deposits in the region, it said.

Erdogan then called for a "ceasefire" in the area amid Russian air raids pounding rebel positions. "We should provide a ceasefire here, taking measures against terrorist organisations together with the joint work of our relevant officials", Erdogan said.

Assad's government has been massing thousands of troops in preparation for an assault.

Two other companies in the network, "Lebanon-based Nasco Polymers and UAE-based Sonex Investments were designated for facilitating shipments to Syrian ports by serving as consignees and chartering the vessels", the statement also said.

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The White House said that the USA would respond "swiftly and vigorously" if Syrian forces used chemical weapons in Idlib.

While it's hard to be sure of the depth of Trump's engagement on Syria policy considering his quick reversals in recent months, he was part of an effort by US officials this week to warn the Syrian regime and its allies not to use chemical weapons or target civilians as they prepare for an assault on Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold. He said that "any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation" of the war.

Erdogan has warned against such a catastrophic outcome, and has much at stake in efforts to prevent it at the Tehran summit.

The meeting between Putin, Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may determine whether diplomacy halts any military action. He made it clear that the operations against anti-Assad forces in Idlib will continue until they all leave Syria. "There are a million children".

"There could be no military solution to the Syrian conflict and it can only end through a negotiated political process".

Iranian fighters have provided critical support for Assad throughout the war. Rouhani's criticism of the United States was echoed by Turkish President Erdogan who stated that Turkey is "deeply annoyed by USA supporting a terrorist organisation in Syria".

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Their previous meetings in Sochi and Ankara established so-called de-escalation zones in several areas, including Idlib, that temporarily reduced violence.

UN Security Council meets to discuss expected offensive in Syria