Turkey, Russia discussing possible operation in Syria’s Idlib, Lavrov says

Thursday, 30 Aug, 2018

The U.S. has vowed to respond if Syrian forces use chemical weapons in Idlib. "It all depends on what Turkey and Russian Federation agree upon and if there is a basic agreement", he said.

The US has made several mentions of this "looming" attack despite officials having conceded to the press several times that there is no evidence the Syrian military has made even a hint of deploying such arms. The US is concerned they could eventually be used to launch another chemical attack using chlorine filled barrel bombs, though they are readily available for a conventional assault.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the Russian reports "false-flag-type reporting".

Assad has turned towards Idlib, where jihadist factions dominate, after Russian-backed victories in recent years that drove the rebels from a mosaic of other areas in Syria.

A major offensive in the Idlib area, where displaced people already make up half the population, risks forcing another 700,000 Syrians from their homes, the United Nations said. Turkey has also backed rebels, but not always the same ones as Washington has backed.

Saudi Arabia has stressed to Russian Federation the need for a political solution to the Syria conflict, the foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Lavrov also said that there is "full political understanding" between Russian Federation and Turkey, who support opposing sides of the Syrian civil war but are now in intense negotiations to ensure Idlib does not become a breaking point in their alliance.

In an effort to restore calm in the region and improve the humanitarian situation in war-torn Syria, three guarantor states Turkey, Iran, and Russian Federation launched the Astana process on January 23, 2017, establishing de-escalation zones.

Moscow, meanwhile, has accused Syrian rebels of planning to stage a chemical attack in Idlib to "provoke" Western strikes.

But Russia's massive navy buildup in Syria can't actually stop the United States from striking Syria in response to the Syrian government's chemical attacks, as it has twice in the past two years.

However Ankara, which supports some rebel groups, is also keen to preserve the three-way alliance and may be prepared to back a more limited offensive against the most extreme opposition factions in Idlib, analysts said.

Assad has turned his attention to Idlib, the last big rebel enclave that has become home to almost 3 million people, of whom 1.8 million are displaced after a series of offensives across the country drove rebel fighters and their families to the northwestern province.

During a public session on Syria at the UN Tuesday, Russia denied any possibility of a chemical attack in Idlib by the Syrian government.