Hundreds flee, fearing assault on Syria's Idlib: monitor

Saul Bowman
September 6, 2018

Representatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran are to meet in Tehran on Friday for a summit which has been described by Ankara as a "last chance to avoid a massacre".

"That can not be a slaughter", Mr Trump said about Idlib.

In parallel to the Syrian government's military buildup, the recent weeks have seen intense diplomatic activity.

US President Donald Trump warned that "the world is watching" as Syrian troops mass on the edges of the province that borders Turkey, raising fears of a humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations and aid groups have warned a military campaign could spark one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in a war that has already killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions.

"Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its allies will respond swiftly and appropriately", White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

Worldwide calls mounted on Wednesday to avoid a "massacre" by government forces in Syria's last rebel-held province of Idlib, two days before a summit among key powers backing the government and opposition.

More than half of Idlib province is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, while Turkish-backed rebels hold much of the rest.

Mattis issued a statement Tuesday night denying he ever said or heard the quotes attributed to him in the book excerpts published Tuesday.

All the attacks were carried out "exclusively on the objects of terrorist groups identified and confirmed through several channels and far from populated areas", he said.

Al-Watan, a Syrian daily close to the government, wrote on Monday that the result of the talks will be presented in Tehran for the three powers "to endorse it and decide on the "zero hour" for the Syrian army's military operation, which is expected to immediately follow the summit".

Mr Trump delivered the furious rant to James Mattis, who said he would "get right on it" before planning a limited airstrike that did not target Mr Assad personally, according to Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in his new book "Fear: Trump in the White House". Mattis has called the book a work of "fiction".

"If it is a slaughter, the world will get very, very angry, and the United States will get very, very angry", he said.

France joined the U.S. and the United Kingdom as partners in the April strikes, launching more than 100 missiles at Syrian government targets.

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