Millions trapped in Idlib prepare for worst

Millions trapped in Idlib prepare for worst

Russian and Syrian government forces launched airstrikes today on the last rebel-held territory in Syria, the Idlib province.

In the province itself, thousands of people staged street protests after Friday prayers calling for worldwide protection.

What is the latest military action?

The UN estimates there are 10,000 fighters in the region with links to al Qaeda.

Syrian and Russian forces carried out the most intense bombing in weeks on Idlib province on Saturday, raising fears of an imminent assault on the densely populated rebel-held area. Damage was reported to a building used by an Islamist militia allied with Turkey called Ahrar al-Sham.

Demonstrators in the northwestern province also denounced the summit in Tehran.

Turkey's president appealed instead for a ceasefire.

"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.

Cavusoglu also said that if fighting escalates, some two million people would head to the Turkish border, which would affect both Turkey and Europe. "We can not ignore this", the Russian president said. Meanwhile, Russian jets renewed their bombardment of southern Idlib, intensively attacking the city of al-Habit, killing four people.

Turkey has erected observation posts along the frontlines between rebels and government forces, and Rashu said Turkey had told them this was a sign of its commitment to protect the people of Idlib.

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Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia November 22, 2017.

The UN and aid groups have warned a military campaign in Idlib could spark one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the seven-year Syrian war.

Idlib straddles major highways across Syria and if it is retaken by the government, the rebels would be left with just a few isolated pockets of territory.

Mr Putin repeated a regular Russian claim that rebel forces might stage a chemical attack to draw Western strikes down on Assad's troops. "United Nations estimates that terrorist fighters make up just 0.5 per cent of population, but three million civilians are at risk".

The province is home to some 3 million people, almost half of them civilians displaced from other parts of Syria.

The three leaders are expected to determine the future of Idlib amid growing fears of a humanitarian disaster. The group also said the airstrikes caused a limited amount of internal displacement, uprooting almost 700 families from their homes in several parts of Idlib. "There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared", he said, adding that the United States is committed to keeping troops in Syria over the long-term, partly to counter Iran's presence.

He did not give details of the evidence he was referring to.

In addition to attempting to expel Iranian forces, the Trump administration's new "strategy" in Syria will also consist of the "establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the global community", notes the Post.