Russian air strikes batter Syria's Idlib

Russian air strikes batter Syria's Idlib

The Observatory blamed the strikes on Russian Federation, which has been waging an air campaign on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces since 2015.

Rebels said the strikes had mostly targeted military positions of the Islamist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkistan Islamic Party in the Jisr al-Shughour district, although at least three civilians were reported to have been killed.

With Turkey's border sealed to the north, it has also become a holding pen for some 2 million displaced civilians, among them activists, journalists and aid workers who fear arrest if they return to life under President Bashar al-Assad's government. Trump wrote in a tweet.

The warning came as Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javed Zarif met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in a surprise visit to Damascus ahead of the looming offensive.

Syria has been at war since early 2011 with a multitude of parties including pro-government forces, rebel groups and militants all fighting for control over various areas.

Separately, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said he was "determined" to hold talks with high-level envoys from Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, despite concerns that an offensive on Idlib may begin before then.

Damascus's main sponsor Russian Federation has been sounding the war drums in recent days, all the while seeking to pressure Turkey-backed groups in Idlib.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said an all-out assault on Idlib and its catastrophic consequences could still be avoided.

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Further Iranian engagement in Syria meanwhile risks drawing Israel deeper into the conflict.

But Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday signalled strikes could be extended to Iraq if necessary.

At the request of Damascus, Iran has been offering advisory military assistance to the Syrian army. "It must be clear".

The U.S. carried out limited airstrikes in April 2017 and again a year later after determining Assad had used chemical weapons in previous attacks.

But analysts still say the United States appears resigned to the likelihood of a final military victory by Syrian regime forces.

But these "verbal warning shots" have little to do with today's reality in Syria, said Jonas Parello-Plesner, a researcher with the Hudson Institute in Washington who recently published a study on the U.S. approach to the region.

Trump has sought better relations with Russian Federation since taking office in 2017 but the United States has been unable to rein in Moscow's military and diplomatic support for Assad.

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