Turkey, Russia seek Idlib consensus in Tehran

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Ankara fears that an imminent military operation by the Syrian government in Idlib, to destroy terrorists, can trigger a flood of refugees to Turkey. "It is essential that all parties to the conflict do not attack civilians, grant safe passage to civilians wishing to flee the fighting and attacks, and ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian relief for all civilians in need in Idlib".

A USA envoy says Washington has "lots of evidence" that Syrian government forces are preparing to use chemical weapons against rebel-held Idlib province.

The United Nations envoy to Syria optimistically interpreted the "signals" from Tehran as indicating Russia, Turkey, and Iran are still looking for a way to avoid bloodshed in Idlib.

Iran, Russia and Turkey all have their own competing interests over Syria.

On Saturday the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a monitoring body, and the opposition-affiliated Idlib Media Centre said government helicopters had dropped 19 barrel bombs on targets in Idlib and Hama, and Russian warplanes had staged 68 strikes. The US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on nine people and companies for assisting weapons or fuel transfers to the Assad regime on Thursday. "The signal for the beginning of the practical phase of the terrorists" provocation in the province of Idlib will be a special team from some "foreign friends of the Syrian revolution", Sputnik quoted Konashenkov as saying. "Any attack on Idlib would result in a catastrophe".

The new U.S. special envoy for Syria said recently that the USA would stay in Syria until the complete eradication of the Islamic State group and will be watching Idlib closely over the next week ahead of UN-led talks on Syria in Geneva on September 14.

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Mr. Hof says the only way to counter the "thoroughly unintended consequences" of such public messaging would be to warn Russian Federation privately that "Assad's business as usual - state terror - could draw a kinetic American response irrespective of the murder weapons". Turkey had helped raise and train groups within the organisation to fight Assad, but earlier this year co-opted them to oust Kurdish forces from Afrin, just south of its border.

For Russia, Iran, and the Syrian government, retaking Idlib is crucial to completing what they seek: a military victory in Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions.

"The shocking civilian death tolls and war crimes witnessed recently in other parts of Syrian such as eastern Aleppo city, Eastern Ghouta and Daraa must not be repeated in Idlib", Samah Hadid, Middle East director of Amnesty International, said. Turkey's relations with the opposition made it a key partner with Russian Federation and Iran in their efforts to end the Syrian civil war under the so-called "Astana Process". "We don't want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath".

But Hassan Hassan, a Syria expert and a fellow at the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said he is doubtful an offensive is imminent, pointing to Turkey getting USA backing in opposing a major offensive.

The Syrian government has denied ever using chemical weapons. The Asayish said seven of its members and 11 government personnel were killed.

The Damascus regime has vowed to reintegrate the Kurdish-held areas, by force if necessary. They seized the territories, with the backing of the US-led coalition, after driving out ISIS militants.

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