Trump warns Syria, Russia Iran against Idlib ‘tragedy’05 September 2018 AFP, Washington
US President Donald Trump speaks with reporters upon arriving at the White House
US President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syria against launching an attack on the country's last rebel stronghold with the help of Russia and Iran, saying the offensive could trigger a "human tragedy."
The warning came as Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javed Zarif met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in a surprise visit to Damascus ahead of the looming offensive.
Syrian forces are amassing around the northwestern province of Idlib, in preparation for the assault.
"President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy," Trump tweeted. "Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don't let that happen!"
The United Nations and aid groups have warned that a full assault on Idlib could spark a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale not yet seen in Syria's seven-year-old conflict.
But Russia and Iran have insisted that extremist groups in Idlib must be defeated and are expected to back regime forces in any assault.
Zarif's trip to war-ravaged Syria also comes just days before a top-level tripartite meeting in Tehran to discuss the Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year.
He met Assad to discuss "issues on the agenda for the tripartite meeting," according to the Syrian presidency's account on the Telegram messaging app.
Since early 2017, Iran, fellow regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey have sponsored the negotiations track based in the Kazakh capital to tamp down hostilities in Syria. Last year, they had designated Idlib as a "de-escalation" zone where violence would halt in preparation for a countrywide ceasefire.
Damascus's main sponsor Russia has been sounding the war drums in recent days, all the while seeking to pressure Turkey into reining in jihadists in Idlib,
Tehran and Moscow have provided steady political, financial and military backing to Assad throughout the war, which has left over 350,000 people dead since it broke out in 2011.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said an all-out assault on Idlib and its catastrophic consequences could still be avoided.