Fate of Syria's Idlib in balance at Tehran summit

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The United States has about 2,000 troops in other areas of Syria but little leverage in Idlib, which had been declared a "de-escalation" zone under an agreement reached a year ago between Russia, Turkey and Iran. Rouhani also spoke of "cleansing the Idlib region of terrorists", while also noting the need of protecting civilians.

Russian airstrikes resumed Friday morning in Syria, pounding rebel positions in Idlib province.

Analysts agree that the summit did not go well for Erdogan: Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Russian and Eurasian affairs, told Al-Monitor that the gathering revealed that a joint offensive carried out by Russia-backed regime forces and Iran-backed pro-regime militias "is very near".

The renewed violence comes after Russian Federation, regime ally Iran and rebel backer Turkey on Friday failed to agree a solution to avert a government offensive. The US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on nine people and companies for assisting weapons or fuel transfers to the Assad regime on Thursday. "We can turn it off and start a new process in Syria if the worldwide community gets serious about the Syrian war and shows that they do care about the Syrian people".

Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there.

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"If the regime uses CW [chemical weapons] - which it has throughout the war - then the U.S. will likely strike Assad regime targets", says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Smoke rises near the Syrian village of Kafr Ain in the southern countryside of Idlib province after an airstrike, September 7, 2018.

It is the last remaining rebel stronghold, and likely to be the scene of a major military offensive.

Idlib's fall to the Assad regime would effectively signal the end of a civil war that has already killed almost half a million people, devastated the country, and forced half its population to flee their homes.

Syrian and Russian forces stand guard as civilians enter the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province, on August 20, 2018. Yesterday, the leaders of Russia Syria and Turkey failed to come up with a plan to end the fighting immediately.

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"We don't want Idlib to be turned into a bloodbath", he stressed. Stop Assad's assault on Idlib.

Pompeo's fingerprints are also on the new official policy, as the Post's main source for details on the policy changes were James Jeffrey, a retired US diplomat who was named Pompeo's "representative for Syria engagement" last month.

The rare flare-up in the Kurdish-majority city near the Turkish border saw 11 regime fighters and seven Kurds killed, the Kurdish security forces said.

The Syrian government has denied ever using chemical weapons. The rescuers said another was killed in Halba, a village further north. This prompted the clashes that lasted no more than 20 minutes, Sheikmos said.

There was no immediate comment on the clashes by the government. But in recent days, the Damascus government announced that it will be holding local administration elections, including in Kurdish-ruled areas, undermining the negotiations with the Kurds and their proposal for self-rule.

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United Nations officials estimate an offensive would trigger a wave of displacement that could uproot up to 800,000 people. France and US have said a chemical attack won't be tolerated while Damascus denies it has such weapons.

Erdogan, meanwhile, may have been the leader with the most to lose ahead of the offensive.

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