Amid 'bloodbath' fears, United States warns Assad against using chemical weapons

White House: Iran, Russia Gear Up for Mass Strike in Syria

A picture taken on Tuesday shows smoke blowing from buildings reportedly hit by Russian air strikes in the rebel-hold town of Muhambal, about 30 kilometres southwest of the city of Idlib.

More than half of Idlib is controlled by militants from Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), while much of the rest is held by rebels backed by Turkey.

On Tuesday, Russian warplanes bombed several areas in Idlib, raising worries of a major assault by the Assad regime forces and its allies.

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.

According to an excerpt from the book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, the U.S. president told Defense Secretary James Mattis that he meant to assassinate the Syrian leader, after Washington accused the government in Damascus of a suspected chemical weapons attack against the militant-held village of Khan Shaykhun in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib a year ago. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Idlib is one of the "de-escalation" zones set up as a result of talks by Russia, Turkey and Iran past year as Damascus regained control of more of the country.

"President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib province", U.S. President Donald Trump said via Twitter on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.




Moscow has accused armed groups in Idlib of sending weaponised drones to attack the Hmeimim airbase that it uses in the adjacent province of Latakia.

Speaking in a meeting with visiting US Republican Senator Richard Hayden Black in Damascus on Wednesday, Assad said that Washington has long resorted to threats, punitive measures as well as state terrorism, stressing that it will be of great benefit to American statesmen and nation if Washington opts to secure peace than to foment strife and destabilize world countries. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the militants pose a terrorist threat, calling Idlib a "hornets' nest of terrorists".

"Our cooperation with Russian Federation now is very important", he said.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on Wednesday that the lives of "millions of people in Idlib are now in the hands of Russia, Turkey and Iran", and urged all parties not to attack civilians.

The United States warned Syria Tuesday it will respond "swiftly and appropriately" if it uses chemical weapons against its people.

The Trump administration has twice launched airstrikes against Syria's government in response to the chemical weapons attacks.

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