Pope warns of 'humanitarian catastrophe' in Syrian rebel bastion

Pope warns of 'humanitarian catastrophe' in Syrian rebel bastion

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to warn Syrian President Bashar Bashar al-Assad against attacking Idlib, the final province in the war-ravaged nation still under rebel control.

In the case of Idlib, an estimated 10,000 fighters with the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group are believed to be the dominant force among rebels in the province, and the Russian military has made a distinction between those forces and what it has described as more moderate "opposition" groups allied with Turkey, its negotiating partner.

Trump's tweet came shortly after Iran's foreign minister said "terrorists must be purged" from Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in the country.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled Monday to Damascus to meet with his Syrian counterpart as well as President Bashar al-Assad. Tens of thousands of people fled to Idlib after surrendering in government offensives elsewhere, choosing to relocate to an opposition-held area rather than risk reprisals or forced conscription at the hands of the government.

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Syrian forces are amassing around the northwestern province of Idlib, in preparation for the assault.

Ahead of the visit, the US State Department said Jeffrey, accompanied by US special envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn, would discuss "maintaining Israel's security while countering Iran's destabilizing activity throughout the region".

Ahead of the Idlib assault, Turkey has stepped up efforts to negotiate with Russian Federation and Iran to separate out and protect the rebel groups it backs, media have reported.

Last year, they had designated Idlib as a "de-escalation" zone where violence would halt in preparation for a countrywide ceasefire.

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Tehran and Moscow have provided steady political, financial and military backing to Assad throughout the war, which has left over 350,000 people dead since it broke out in 2011. Other sources said the air base was the target of an air strike.

The US earlier stated that it would "retaliate" to a possible chemical attack by the Syrian government, using more firepower than it did back in April.

And that reality, he told AFP, is that "Assad is advancing on the ground, aided by Iran by land and Russian Federation by air", while the United States places its hopes on a UN-backed Geneva peace process that might best be described as "moribund".

Trump said in April that "it's time" to bring American troops home from Syria - once the jihadists of the Islamic State group had been definitively defeated.

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