Syria and Russian Federation strike in Idlib as leaders meet in Teheran

Russia's UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.

Mr Putin said Damascus "has a right and must eventually take under control all of its national territory", while Mr Rouhani warned against a "scorched earth" policy but said "fighting terrorism in Idlib is an unavoidable".

The air raids in the densely populated rebel-held area were the "most intense" in weeks and followed Russian airstrikes that killed four rebels and a shepherd in Idlib province on Friday.

A new refugee wave has already started but "Turkey's capacity to host migrants" has filled up, Erdoğan said at a three-way summit in Tehran with the leaders of Russian Federation and Iran.

Friday's summit had focused on a looming military operation in Idlib, the last major stronghold of active opposition in Syria to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

On Saturday the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a monitoring body, and the opposition-affiliated Idlib Media Centre said government helicopters had dropped 19 barrel bombs on targets in Idlib and Hama, and Russian warplanes had staged 68 strikes.

The stance of Turkey, which mans 12 observation posts on the edges of the Idlib enclave, is critical to determining its fate, analysts say.

"The Tehran summit can produce peace and reconciliation in Syria or it can deepen the mess created by endless bouts of violence mainly instigated by the Assad regime", Ilnur Cevik, a senior adviser to Erdogan, wrote in the Daily Sabah newspaper.

Smoke rises near the Syrian village of Kafr Ain in the southern countryside of Idlib province after an airstrike, September 7, 2018. And in a sign of the administration's shrinking commitment to Syria, it has pulled more than $200 million in stabilization funding for liberated areas, telling other nations they should step up to pay.

Those Syrian ground troops would be backed by Russian aircraft as well as military logistics and elite forces provided by Syria's other major ally, Iran.

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

"I think the last chapter of the Idlib story has not been written".

"We are living in black days", said one woman in Idlib.

"There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared" by Syrian government forces in Idlib, the U.S. State Department's adviser for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, said in an interview with Reuters. Stop Assad's assault on Idlib.

Elsewhere on Saturday, clashes between Kurdish forces and regime fighters in the divided northeastern city of Qamishli killed 18 combatants, the Kurdish forces and the Observatory said.

Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, said in a statement that a government patrol entered the areas controlled by the Kurdish militia in Qamishli and began arresting civilians, then shot at a Kurdish checkpoint sparking the gun battle.

"Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed".

There was no immediate comment on the clashes by the government. When top officials pushed back, saying they needed time to ensure that ISIS wouldn't reemerge in the region, Trump reportedly relented, saying they could have five or six months to wrap up the mission.

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