Idlib offensive could kill or displace ‘large numbers’ of Syrians

Smoke from the Syrian government forces' bombardment of the town of al-Tamana on the southern edges of the rebel-held Idlib province, on September 6, 2018 AFP or licensors

Switzerland is alarmed by increased hostilities in and around Idlib province in north-western Syria, the last big rebel enclave, and possible dramatic consequences for the population. The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey are meeting in Tehran on Friday for a summit that may decide a future military offensive against Idlib. 

This content was published on September 7, 2018

The Swiss Foreign Affairs Ministry is “deeply concerned” by the increase in hostilities in Idlib province and dramatic consequences for the population, it said in a statement on ThursdayExternal link

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the frontlines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a possible assault. 

Idlib province and surrounding areas are home to about three million people — nearly half of them civilians displaced from other parts of Syria. That also includes an estimated 10,000 fighters, including al-Qaida-linked militants. 

For Russia and Iran, both allies of the Syrian government, retaking Idlib is crucial to completing what they see as a military victory in Syria's civil war, after Syrian troops backed by Russian air power recaptured nearly all other major towns and cities, largely defeating the rebellion against Assad. 

On Friday, the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey are meeting in Tehran to discuss the war in Syria, with all eyes on a possible military offensive to retake the last rebel-held bastion of Idlib. 

Possible chemical weapons

The Swiss ministry warned on Thursday that any military offensive would result in “large numbers” of people being displaced or killed. It urged the warring parties to comply with international law and to work to ensure an immediate cessation of hostilities through negotiation, while guaranteeing the Idlib "de-escalation zone". 

The ministry added: “This is essential to produce a negotiated political solution under the auspices of the United Nations and to put an end to the suffering of the people of Syria. Only in this way can a lasting, broad-based peace that guarantees the rights of all Syrians be achieved.” 

The new United States envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey warned on Thursday of chemical weapons possibly being used by Syrian government forces in Idlib. 

Jeffrey told reporters: “Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation… there is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared." 

The US envoy said an attack by Russian and Syrian forces, and the use of chemical weapons, would force huge refugee flows into south-eastern Turkey or areas in Syria under Turkish control.

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