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Kremlin says Syria army getting ready to 'solve' Idlib 'terrorism' problem

Syrian rebel fighters prepare for an upcoming government forces offensive, in the countryside of the rebel-held northern Idlib province
OMAR HAJ KADOUR (AFP)
Zarif said Iran has vowed to push militants out of Idlib and will try to do so 'with the least human cost'

The Kremlin said Tuesday the Syrian army is getting ready to solve the problem of "terrorism" in the rebel stronghold of Idlib, apparently referring to a looming regime offensive.

"We know that the Syrian armed forces are getting ready to solve this problem," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, calling Idlib a "pocket of terrorism."

He did not release a timeframe however. He also could not comment on reports that Russian warplanes had carried out air strikes on Idlib earlier Tuesday.

According to Rami Abdel Rahman who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday: "Russian warplanes resumed bombing Idlib province after a 22-day pause."

Tuesday's bombardment hit several areas held by the jihadist-led Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, among them the large town of Jisr al-Shughur, but also areas held by rival Turkish-backed rebels, including the town of Ariha.

Abdel Rahman could not immediately provide a death toll for the strikes.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately comment.

George OURFALIAN (AFP/File)

Peskov said numerous "terrorists" are holed up in the country's last rebel stronghold, leading to a "general destabilisation of the situation."

"This undermines attempts to push the situation towards a political and diplomatic settlement and most importantly presents a significant threat for our temporary facilities," he added. "No doubt one needs to deal with this problem."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif said Tuesday that his country was making efforts to removed armed rebel forces from Idlib with as little "human cost" as possible.

Idlib is held by a complex array of rebels and jihadists, many of whom have been blacklisted as "terrorists" by world powers and was seized from government forces in 2015.

Syrian government forces are now massing around the northwestern province in preparation for the assault.

US President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syria against launching an attack on Idlib with the help of Russia and Iran, saying the offensive could trigger a "human tragedy."

Peskov took issue with Trump's warning, saying the situation could have "dangerous, negative" consequences for the entire country.

The presidents of Turkey, Russia and fellow regime ally Iran are to meet in Tehran on Friday for three-way talks that are expected to focus on Idlib.

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