Refugee calamity feared as battle for Syria's Idlib looms large

Syrian government forces attack rebel-held city

Turkey's president has said that his country does not want a bloodbath in Idlib province and a ceasefire would be an important step amid looming Russian-backed Syrian offensive in the last rebel-held area.

"We believe that an agreement will be reached and our call for truce in the Idlib zone will be heard", Putin stressed after the Tehran summit between Russia, Iran and Turkey.

And Russia wants to maintain its regional presence to fill the vacuum left by America's long uncertainty about what it wants in the conflict.

The Trump administration issued a series of new sanctions on the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ahead of what USA officials believe is an "imminent attack" by the regime with help from Russian Federation and Iran, according to an announcement by the Treasury Department. At least one person was killed and several others wounded.

An estimated15 to 20 percent of the 60,000 to 70,000 Syrian rebels in Idlib are believed to be terrorists and Jeffrey said the USA "asked repeatedly for permission" from the Russians to rid the area of the terrorists in order to avoid a mass assault.

According to an upcoming book by reporter Bob Woodward, Trump wanted to kill al-Assad after he launched the chemical weapons on civilians previous year.

Rouhani also stated that the battle in Syria will prevail until militants are pushed out of the entire country, especially in Idlib, but also underlined that any military operation should avoid civilians casualties. That also includes an estimated 10,000 militants, including Al Qaeda-linked militants. They said a military strike on Idlib would lead to a "humanitarian catastrophe".

For Russia and Iran- who have been both allies of the Syrian government ever since the war broke out in Syria during the Arab Spring - reclaiming Idlib is vital to complete what they perceive as a military victory in Syrian conflict after Syrian troops recaptured almost all other prominent areas, largely quelling the rebellion against Assad.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a series of airstrikes struck a few villages in southwest Idlib and along the borders with the adjacent Hama province, targeting insurgent posts and killing a fighter.

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For Turkey, the stakes couldn't be higher. Russian warplane were already bombing the region, which holds about 70,000 opposition fighters and 2 million Syrian civilians, in recent days.

Turkey also doesn't want to see another Kurdish-controlled area rise along its border, as it already faces in northern Iraq.

"You still need moderate opposition groups who represent the Sunni suffering masses in Syria to achieve a viable political solution and durable peace in this country", he wrote.

The Tehran meeting comes against the backdrop of USA sanctions against all three participating countries.

The Tehran talks could determine the scale and the timeline of the Idlib offensive, which the United Nations has warned may displace some 800,000 people.

Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, has backed the opposition while Russian Federation and Iran support the Syrian government.

The Syrian military has been urging the rebels in Idlib to surrender. While Idlib is expected to top the agenda, the trio are also expected to discuss mechanisms for minimizing the impact of USA financial pressure.

"The fight against terrorism in Idlib is an indispensable part of the mission to return peace and stability to Syria, but this fight should not harm civilians and lead to a "scorched-earth" policy", Rouhani said.

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