White House: Iran, Russia Gear Up for Mass Strike in Syria

White House: Iran, Russia Gear Up for Mass Strike in Syria

The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond "swiftly and vigorously" if government forces used chemical weapons in the widely expected offensive.

Since 2011, Assad's regime has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons, including this year in its battle to retake the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

Instead of a full-scale assault, Russia, Turkey and Iran could agree to a piecemeal approach that would see government forces taking off bites of the province, including cities like Jisr al-Shughour, close to Assad's coastal heartland in Latakia province, and Maaret al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun, which lie on the M5, a key highway that runs through Syria's major cities.

Jeffrey said any offensive 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.

USA officials said they haven't detected Russian ground forces in the past few days.

The Russian military on Wednesday confirmed air strikes were carried out on Syria's last major rebel stronghold Idlib with warplanes targeting the "terrorist" al-Nusra Front on Tuesday.

The three nations past year declared Idlib to be a "de-escalation zone", and Turkey says the cease-fire inside Idlib must not be violated.

Idlib is one of the de-escalation areas designated in the Astana talks between Turkey and the regime's allies Russian Federation and Iran and has been turned into a shelter for opposition fighters and their families who were evacuated from different parts of the war-torn country.

Jeffrey described the situation in Idlib as "very dangerous" and said Turkey, which has backed some rebel groups in the region, was trying to avoid an all-out Syrian government offensive.

"We're no longer pulling out by the end of the year, we're going to stay in until we have an enduring defeat of (the Islamic State group)", Jeffrey said.

He said the United States had repeatedly asked Russian Federation whether it could "operate" in Idlib to eliminate the last holdouts of Isis and other extremist groups.

Can Acun, foreign policy researcher at the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, or SETA, said Turkey will try to push at the summit for any operation in Idlib to be limited, "one that targets only terror and radical groups".

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he did not discuss assassinating Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, disputing an account in a forthcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward.

There was a "a new commitment" by the administration to remain in Syria until Islamic State militants were defeated, while ensuring Iran left the country, he added.

Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom also urged Syria "to exercise restraint".

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