Russian Federation to US: Reveal your targets for possible Syria attack

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

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

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.

"The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year", said James Jeffrey, a retired senior Foreign Service officer who last month was named Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's "representative for Syria engagement".

Jeffrey repeated a sharp warning to Russian Federation, saying any offensive in the northwestern province of Idlib is "objectionable" and would be seen as a "reckless escalation".

With the United Nations warning of a potential "bloodbath" in Syria's Idlib province, the United States has warned President Bashar al-Assad it would respond "swiftly and appropriately" if he uses chemical weapons against his own people.

This is while both Russian Federation and Syria have warned of suspicious activity in terrorist-controlled areas that show the anti-government militants are preparing to mount chemical attacks in Idlib and then blame it on the army.

Instead of a full-scale assault, Russia, Turkey and Iran could agree to a piecemeal approach that would see government forces taking off bites of the province, including cities like Jisr al-Shughour, close to Assad's coastal heartland in Latakia province, and Maaret al-Numan and Khan Sheikhoun, which lie on the M5, a key highway that runs through Syria's major cities.

The future of Idlib is likely to be determined at a summit on Friday, when the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey will gather in Tehran to discuss the future of Syria.

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So far, no buildup of Russian ground forces has been observed in recent days, officials said. He said if Damascus retook Idlib, it would mark its near-total victory over the opposition, but it will likely also bring humanitarian suffering and carnage on a scale not yet seen in the seven-year war.

In the absence of an engaged United States, they have taken it upon themselves to manage Syria's messy civil war, and their previous meetings in Sochi and Ankara established so-called de-escalation zones in several areas, including Idlib, that temporarily reduced violence. The Turks are trying to find a way out. Now, he said, the United States will not tolerate "an attack".

Asked whether potential USA retaliation for any offensive in Idlib, with or without chemical weapons, would include airstrikes, Jeffrey said, "We have asked repeatedly for permission to operate", and "that would be one way" to respond.

"We have absolutely advised them to stay out of At Tanf", one United States official said.

Russian Federation has called on the United States to reveal the list of the targets that it will attack in response to what it claims to be an upcoming chemical attack by the Syrian government.

The Trump administration is now pledging the US will remain in Syria until the "enduring defeat" of the Islamic State group, a move that could signal open-ended American involvement in the war-torn country.

Meeting Wednesday with the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, President Donald Trump called the situation in Idlib "very sad".

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