U.S. threatens to 'respond swiftly' if Assad uses chemical weapons

Territorial control and statistics on the risk of a humanitarian crisis in the Idlid region of Syria

Territorial control and statistics on the risk of a humanitarian crisis in the Idlid region of Syria

"Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately".

The verbal clash came as towns and villages in the northern Idlib province, where Syria's rebels are holed up, came under intense airstrikes, killing at least eight people, according to a search and rescue group and a conflict monitoring group.

Pompeo and Cavusoglu "agreed that any Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria", said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Damascus, backed by allies Russian Federation and Iran, has been preparing an assault to recover Idlib and adjacent areas of the northwest, and resumed air strikes along with Russian Federation on Tuesday after weeks of lull.

"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".

He added that the aerial attacks came a day after militants in Idlib hit Syrian army positions in neighboring Latakia province, which killed three pro-government fighters.

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Some 2.9 million people live in Idlib and surrounding areas, among them one million children.

Idlib's rebel factions are divided, with a jihadist alliance that includes al Qaeda's former official Syrian affiliate holding most ground.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine people were killed in the air strikes.

The Syrian military has been sending reinforcements to the area for more than a month, and Russian Federation has ramped up its rhetoric.

Asked if he saw indications of the Syrian government preparing to use chemical weapons in Idlib, Mattis said, " I think the best answer to that is, we are very alert".

"The strikes were dealt away from populated areas against terrorists' hangars where the drones were kept and also against confirmed areas where attack drones were launched for terrorist attacks against the Russian airbase Khmeimim and communities in Aleppo and Hama provinces", Konashenkov stated. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the militants pose a terrorist threat, calling Idlib a "hornets' nest of terrorists".

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