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No major offensive planned in Syria's Idlib: Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart on August 30, 2018

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that the Syrian regime is not preparing a major offensive against the opposition-held Idlib, adding that Moscow will do everything to protect civilians.

Russia-backed regime forces have massed around Idlib in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent air and ground attack to retake the last major opposition bastion.

"What is being presented at the moment as the beginning of a Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces is not a faithful representation of the facts," said Lavrov during a German-Russian forum in Berlin.

"Syrian forces and we ourselves are simply reacting to the attacks coming from the zone of Idlib," he argued.

Lavrov also said that Russia was concerned about civilians' welfare.

"We will take care on these issues, we will establish humanitarian corridors, set up ceasefire zones and we are doing everything to ensure that the civilian population would not suffer," he said.

Idlib province and adjacent rural areas form the largest piece of territory still held by Syria's beleaguered rebels, worn down by a succession of government victories in recent months.

Some three million people live in the zone now, about half of them already displaced by the brutal seven-year war and others heavily dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, according to the UN.


Recent hostilities have displaced more than 38,500 people in less than two weeks, said the UN, which has warned that a full assault on Idlib could create the century's "worst humanitarian catastrophe".

Last week, the three main power brokers in the Syrian war -- Russia, Iran and Turkey-- met in Tehran to discuss the situation in Idlib, among other topics. 

The tripartite meeting did not produce a solution to Idlib, and Russian fighter jets reportedly bombed rebel targets shortly after. 

Arab media reported that Iranian fighters emerged outside Idlib to assist Assad in retaking the province from rebels. 

Russia has accused rebel fighters of staging a chemical attack in the province to provoke a strike from the US on Assad, which Washington has pledged it will if chemical weapons are used again. 

The US, on the other hand, believes that Assad approved the use of chlorine gas in Idlib. 

-Last IS bastion-

In Deir Ezzor, the US-backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and their American advisers have been grouped on the outskirts of the village of As-Susah on the east bank of the Euphrates River.

The SDF has been closing in on the pocket for months and it officially launched its offensive on Monday. 

Heavy clashes have since killed 46 jihadists and 15 SDF fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. 

The offensive "will clear remnants of (IS) from northeastern Syria along the Middle Euphrates River Valley toward the Syria-Iraq border", according to the coalition. 

"The battle is fateful for us and for Daesh too," said Dairi, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.


He expects the remaining jihadists to "fight to the death".

The SDF estimates IS has some 3,000 fighters in its besieged holdout, a large portion of them foreigners. 

After having declared a cross-border "caliphate" in 2014, IS now controls less than three percent of Syria following a string of military defeats inside the country and neighboring Iraq.

The group once held nearly all of Deir Ezzor, but separate offensives last year by the SDF and Russian-backed regime forces left the jihadists with a just small besieged pocket near the Iraqi border.


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