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Russia denies major offensive planned in Syria's Idlib

Russia has been a key ally for the Syrian regime [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 September, 2018

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The Kremlin’s foreign ministry has announced that the Assad regime is not preparing a major offensive against the opposition-held Idlib.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 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.

Postponed

On Thursday, the UN said more than 38,500 people have been displaced in less than two weeks due to violence in northwest Syria, amid increasing hostilities and a looming regime assault on the opposition-held Idlib province.

"Between 1-12 September, available information indicates that a sharp increase in hostilities and fears of further escalation has led to the displacement of over 38,500 people," the UN humanitarian agency said.

The latest remarks came as Syrian rebel commanders told Reuters that Ankara has sent weapons and ammunition to opposition forces in Idlib, to stave off an offensive to retake the rebel-held city.

Reports suggested the planned assault on the last rebel stronghold in Syria might be put on ice, as pro-regime media accounts report that the battle plan has been postponed until a later date.

"So it seems Idlib ops (divided into 3 stages) has been moved for a further date," tweeted one account.

This could be due to the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran could have concluded that their forces would face much stronger resistance from the rebels in Idlib, than previously considered.

Turkey's vocal resistance to the offensive might have also been a stumbling block, with Ankara a key part of the Russian and Iranian-sponsored Astana peace process.

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