Thousands of Syrians displaced as threat of Idlib attack grows

Minnie Murray
September 11, 2018

Syria's regime and Iran have been building up their forces around Idlib province, the last stronghold of the rebels with fears an assault on the region is imminent.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 pro-regime fighters had been killed in an Isil ambush on Monday in southern Syria.

Global observers reported more than 30 airstrikes were reported on towns and villages in the south west of the province over the weekend.

The WSJ report cites White House discussions of a third strike - in reference to U.S. attacks on Syria during the last two Aprils after chemical allegations were made against Damascus - while indicating it would "likely would be more expansive than the first two" and could include targeting Russian Federation and Iran.

Russian Federation and Iran backed a military offensive to reclaim the last major rebel-held area of Syria, while Turkey called for a ceasefire to prevent mass casualties among the province's estimated 3.5 million population. Turkey has troops and 12 observations points that circle Idlib.

On Saturday, the United States' top general said he and Trump have "routine dialogue" about possible military consequences if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons in Idlib.

The recapture of the province is seen by Russian Federation and Iran as a vital objective in stamping out the rebellion against the Syrian leader. Turkey has taken in 3.5 million refugees from its neighbor.

"While trying to wake up the world against the threat of a massacre in Idlib, Turkey is prepared to shelter about 200,000 refugees at camps within Syria", Saadet Oruc, a senior Erdogan adviser, told state-run TRT radio.

It further said that 30,000 FSA gunmen are in regions under the occupation of the Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch forces, "and a sum 20,000 FSA fighters are to be transferred to Idlib to counter the Damascus forces' upcoming operation".

Idlib residents hope Turkey's presence in the province might prevent a major assault by regime forces and Ankara's relationship with Iran and Russian Federation could lead to a new ceasefire.

Damascus, backed by allies Russian Federation and Iran, has been preparing a major assault to recover Idlib and adjacent areas of northwest Syria from rebels.

For years, as the government retook areas like Aleppo and eastern Ghouta, Syria's defeated rebels have fled to the northern province, which was established as a "de-escalation zone" guaranteed by Turkey, Russia and Iran. Up to 30,000 rebel and jihadist fighters are thought to be entrenched in Idlib province. "We need a quick solution or our town will burn!" the official pleaded in an audio recording shared on social media platforms. Occasional clashes erupt there over turf control and authority, reflecting deepening political tension between the uneasy partners.

Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, said in a statement that a government patrol entered the areas controlled by the Kurdish militia in Qamishli and began arresting civilians, then shot at a Kurdish checkpoint sparking the gun battle. The Asayish said seven of its members and 11 government personnel were killed.

Swanson said that since Friday's summit, mortar and rocket attacks had increased, especially in the northern Hama countryside and southern Idlib rural areas. But the Pentagon pushed for a more measured response, USA officials said, and the idea was eventually rejected as too risky.

There was no immediate word about the clashes from the government.

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