Erdogan urges global community to avert Idlib assault

Intense air raids reported on edge of Syria's rebel-held Idlib

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock's comments in Geneva came days after Iran and Russian Federation backed a military campaign in the rebel-held area despite Turkey's pleas for a cease-fire.

Turkey's president on Monday urged the global community to be aware of its responsibilities in Syria as an assault on Idlib looms.

Syrian state media said the attacks on Saturday were a retaliation to overnight shelling from rebel-held areas on a government-held town in Hama province, south of Idlib, that killed nine civilians.

The WSJ report cites White House discussions of a third strike - in reference to USA 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. Video from a pro-opposition news agency shows smoke from what it said were bombings in multiple villages.

Women and children ran terrified across nearby fields, one woman appearing to clutch a baby in a blanket.

The escalating bombardment has already damaged civilian infrastructure.

Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper reported "new U.S. intelligence" which showed Assad's order has "cleared the way" for the use of the gas.

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"They also include people from other parts of Syria who were transferred to Idlib, people from Homs, Aleppo, who were transferred to this province, bussed there, in evacuation deals", she said.

Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, control more than half of Idlib, and much of the Russian and Syrian government rhetoric has focused on a need to defeat the group.

A new offensive on Idlib would likely uproot 800,000 people, the United Nations warned, causing major problems for relief agencies.

On Friday at a summit in Tehran, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey could not agree on staving off military action in the province.

Erdogan, who met with his Russian and Iranian counterparts at a summit in Tehran last week, also said Russia and Iran had a responsibility to stop the humanitarian disaster in Idlib.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned against a "scorched earth" policy, but said "fighting terrorism in Idlib is an unavoidable".

The area is Syria's last major stronghold of active opposition to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

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"Russia is reminding Turkey it needs to stay in Russia's good graces if Turkey wants to avoid a painful catastrophe in north-west Syria", Mr Heras told Agence France-Presse.

The conspiracy theory Black touted on Arab television has been assiduously pushed by the Russian government in the runup to a massive military operation against rebel-held areas of the Idlib province.

For Russia and Iran, both allies of the Syrian government, retaking Idlib is crucial to complete what they see as a military victory in Syria's civil war after Syrian troops recaptured almost all other major towns and cities, largely defeating the rebellion against Assad.

Airstrikes have begun and regime forces have been massing for weeks. The regime controls a southeastern chunk.

The Observatory said shooting broke out when Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint demanded that regime fighters step out of their patrol vehicle but they refused. "Some have even started to move under the trees in the hope that it will save them", said Mahmoud.

"Arguably removing USA force presence [in northeast Syria] allows the Assad regime to retake that territory, and of course, who comes with them?"

With US-led support, Syria's Kurds played a key role in the war against the Islamic State group, during which they seized large swathes of northern and northeastern Syria.

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