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Russia's Lavrov warns of new Syrian regime offensive on Idlib

Lavrov has warned that Syria's regime could attack Idlib [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 January, 2019

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Lavrov warns of new Syrian regime offensive on Idlib province could be in the making.

Russia's foreign minister warned on Monday that the Syrian regime could soon launch a major offensive on the opposition province of Idlib, as clashes break out between warring factions close to a demilitarised zone.

Sergei Lavrov said that a truce agreed between regime ally Russia and rebel-backers Turkey has effectively ended due to the domination of Idlib by hardline militants Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

The militant group - which once had links to al-Qaeda - is not considered by Moscow to be covered by a ceasefire agreement agreed with Turkey last year, which averted a major offensive of the province.

"A terrorist nest that is still in Idlib is a fact, and our Syrian colleagues have confirmed their readiness to eliminate this terrorist hotspot," Lavrov said, according to Russian media.

"The fact that Nusra and its reincarnation, Tahrir al-Sham, have, in fact, taken over a large portion of the territory there, of course, does not correspond to the agreements that were reached on the security issues of Idlib," he told Kazakh minister Beibut Atamkulov.

If the ceasefire agreement for Idlib is declared null-and-void by Moscow, due to the recent capture of the province by HTS, it could mean a fresh offensive on the opposition territories could be launched by Russia and the Syrian regime.

Such a campaign would have devastating consequences for the some 3 million civilians living in Idlib, activists and humanitarian workers have warned. 

"We fear [HTS] will control all liberated areas and Russian war planes will bomb us," one Idlib resident told The New Arab.

Syrian regime troops and military equipment have reportedly been rushed to the border of the demilitarised zone in large numbers, The New Arab's Arabic service reported on Monday.

It comes amid clashes between rebels and regime forces in northern Hama province.

At least 14 opposition towns and villages in Hama and Idlib have been bombed and shelled amid fears of a fresh regime offensive, according to Zamn al-Wasl.

HTS captured all of Idlib province from rebel groups in January, announcing that the affiliated Salvation Government would administer the areas, sparking fear form civilians.

Earlier on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused HTS of detaining and torturing opposition activists in Idlib.

Lavrov also stated that Bashar al-Assad's regime backs Moscow's proposition to resolve a dispute with Turkey on the presence of Kurdish militants in northern Syria with the revival of a 1998 agreement between Damascus and Ankara.

President Vladimir Putin met his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow last week to discuss what action will take place following the planned US withdrawal from northern Syria.

Turkey has been gearing up to move into areas controlled by the US-backed, Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces once the American withdrawal takes place.

Russia wants the Syrian regime to occupy the area but could use the Adana agreement to crush Kurdish militancy close to the Turkish border.

Turkey has said this proposal would not satisfy its demands.

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