Shells hit Syria's Idlib as rebels brace for assault

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that dropping bombs and missiles on Syria's last rebel-held province of Idlib could cause a "massacre", in remarks published Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the White House released an official statement condemning the attacks on Idlib and threatened military force if "chemical weapons" are used.

The White House additionally reaffirmed its commitment to responding "swiftly and appropriately" if Assad utilized chemical weapons.

The UN says almost three million people live in Idlib and global concern has risen in recent days over a threatened regime assault to oust rebels and jihadists from the province and surrounding areas. At least 13 civilians were killed in the Russian bombing, according to monitors.

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. Numerous residents are rebels and civilians who were bussed out of other areas as they came back under Syrian regime control.

"Let's try to avoid that the last probably major battle of the Syrian territorial conflict...ends in a bloodbath", he told reporters in Geneva, insisting Russian Federation and Turkey held "the key for the soft solution to the Idlib issue".

Seized from government forces in 2015, Idlib and surrounding areas form the last major swath of territory still in rebel hands.

The Syrian military has been deploying reinforcements to the zone for more than a month, and Russian Federation has stepped up its rhetoric.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated Russia's position, calling Idlib a "hornets' nest of terrorists".

De Mistura said there were an estimated 10,000 fighters with UN-designated terror groups now in Idlib.

The U.S. has twice struck Syrian military installations in response to alleged poison gas attacks.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday afternoon that Russian Federation and Syria are gearing up to launch a mass strike in Syria on behalf of embattled President Bashar al-Assad, risking the lives of "millions of innocent civilians", according to an announcement.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis attends a news conference at Libertador Building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug. 15, 2018.

"Let's f-king kill him!"

Mattis reportedly told Trump he would get "right on it" in an apparent attempt to pacify the president, but hung up the phone and instead told a senior aide, "We're not going to do any of that".

  • Jon Douglas