Syrian FM threatens all-out assault on Idlib

Hannah Rogers
August 31, 2018

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said there was a high concentration of foreign fighters in Idlib that includes an estimated 10,000 fighters designated by the UN as terrorists, who he said belonged to the al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda.

The warning does not seem to be holding back Damascus or its chief ally, Moscow.

The drills were announced after North Atlantic Treaty Organisation reported a Russian naval buildup in the Mediterranean - part of what a Russian newspaper on Tuesday called Moscow's largest naval build-up since it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.

On August 30, Russian Foreign Minister said during talks with Walid Muallem, Syrian Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Foreign and Expatriates Minister in Moscowб that Moscow warning the West not to play with fire in Syria.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Thursday it would hold naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea from September 1 to September 8 and that 25 vessels and 30 planes would take part, the TASS news agency reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments to reporters on a conference call while answering a question about planned Russian naval drills in the Mediterranean, an exercise he said the hard situation in Syria justified.

"This hotbed of terrorists (in Idlib) does really not bode anything good if such inaction continues", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

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The Syrian port of Tartous is critical for that Russian deployment.

US officials have remained quiet about the Russian naval movements, although Thursday's announcements by Moscow were matched by a Pentagon announcement that USA forces will stage their own weeklong regional war games next month with Egypt.

About 2.7 million people live in Idlib, where an offensive would pose a grave humanitarian problem as there is no safe territory left in Syria for residents to flee to.

The tensions are underscored by the Trump administration's determination to enforce a "red line" against chemical weapons in Syria. "We already went through that in the past and we need to make sure that this will not happen again", he said, adding that the use of chemical weapons would be "unacceptable". The strike came one week after an alleged gas attack on the city.

Analysts say Russian forces will take that factor into account during their air and sea exercises. Any major military operation would send a new wave of refugees to Turkey's border.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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