Published: Wed, September 12, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Assad 'has 'been warned' over chemical weapons use: Mattis

Assad 'has 'been warned' over chemical weapons use: Mattis

Damascus, backed by allies Russian Federation and Iran, has been preparing a major assault to recover Idlib and adjacent areas of northwest Syria from rebels. Turkey has staked a major claim in Idlib as a way of staving off the chaos from its borders.

CNN reported last week that United States officials have grown anxious that an assault on Idlib could involve the use of chemical weapons if the rebels are able to slow regime advances.

A possible regime attack on Syria's northwestern province of Idlib will sabotage the ongoing political process and cause a serious crisis of confidence, the Turkish presidential spokesman said on September 11.

More than 30,000 people have been displaced within rebel-held northwest Syria by government and allied bombardment which began last week, a United Nations official said.

Turkey, which is already hosting 3.5 million Syrian refugees, is warning against such an attack, fearing it could force more Syrians over the border.

Ankara, however, is concerned that if Idlib were to fall to Syrian government forces, Turkey's broader military presence in Syria would be next in Damascus' sights, according to analysts.

People demonstrate against the regime and its ally Russian Federation, in the rebel-held city of Idlib, Sept. 7, 2018.

"The president expects us to have military options in the event that chemical weapons are used", Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Saturday, "We have provided updates to him on the development of those military options".

"We will keep the refugees in Syria for the safety of both Turkey and European countries".

Turkey has backed an array of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels during the war that spiraled out of an uprising against President Bashar Assad in 2011.

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"They pledged complete Turkish military support for a long, protracted battle", a senior FSA commander who was privy to talks in recent days with senior Turkish officials said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly.

"Arguably removing USA force presence [in northeast Syria] allows the Assad regime to retake that territory, and of course, who comes with them? Idlib can be defended against the regime", Selcen said.

There were also attacks from Idlib province on a Russian air base and on Syrian government positions, which made the situation untenable.

Other analysts say they are not completely convinced.

Although it opened its doors to Syrians escaping the fighting in the early years of the conflict, Turkey has since built a wall along its 900 km (560 mile) border with Syria.

Wreckage at a site of a civilian hospital following Syrian government airstrikes in the town of Hass, Rural Idlib Alhnobi, Syria, Sept. 8, 2018.

For the past 18 months, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been cultivating a deepening relationship with Erdogan, much to the angst of Turkey's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

"The United States is long past taking Russian Federation and Iran at their word that they are interested in protecting civilians in Idlib from further violence", she said.

Analysts suggest Erdogan could be engaging in a high-stakes gamble, betting that Moscow and Damascus aren't ready to risk a clash with Turkey and could yet seek a last-minute diplomatic settlement over Idlib.

At the summit in Tehran, Erdogan, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani agreed in a statement that there could be no military solution to the conflict and it could only end through a negotiated political process. Let's stop this civil war in Idlib.

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