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As Curtain Comes Down on Idlib and Syrian War, US and Russia Face Off for Final Act

As Curtain Comes Down on Idlib and Syrian War, US and Russia Face Off for Final Act

As Curtain Comes Down on Idlib and Syrian War, US and Russia Face Off for Final Act
August 30
20:03 2018

MOSCOW — Tensions on a global scale are mounting once again in Syria, as forces aligned with Damascus prepare to wipe out the last-remaining pocket of anti-government resistance in Idlib, the overwhelming bulk of which consists of terrorist al-Qaeda affiliates. The clock is ticking as allied Russia builds its forces offshore in a warning to the United States not to gamble on any last-ditch move to stave off what Moscow called the impending “liquidation” of the rebel-held province.

The Russian Defense Ministry told reporters Thursday that it would begin major military drills in the Mediterranean Sea throughout the first week of September in an exercise it claimed would focus on anti-air and anti-submarine defense maneuvers. Over 25 warships and support vessels from the Baltic, Black Sea and Northern Fleets plus the Caspian Flotilla will take part in the war games and will be joined by 30 aircraft, including Tu-160 strategic bombers, Su-33 fighter jets, and a range of other military aviation units.

The announcement of the exercise – dubbed Operation Sea Shield – came a day after NATO warned of a Russian naval buildup in the Mediterranean. Moscow has called the deployment a means by which the U.S. or NATO could be deterred from carrying out any new attacks on Syrian government targets, which would come on the tail of a “false flag” chemical attack that would be blamed on Damascus.

Washington, for its part, has vowed to intervene once again if it sees convincing evidence that the Syrian government is deploying banned chemical agents. The foreign-funded White Helmets group has been the most vocal accuser against the so-called “Syrian Regime,” as was the case last April in East Ghouta when they accused Syrian President Bashar al Assad of using chemical arms against civilians. The group has once again appealed for outside military intervention and for the “international community” to protect the extremist-held region.

Yet even Turkey – which once supported the group as it sought to topple Assad – is unlikely to put much skin in the game. Ankara has called on the estimated 10,000 members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group (now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) to disband and leave Idlib.



The group has defied the call, largely because its terms were not met in peace negotiations with Damascus, Moscow, or Ankara. Given the crisis Turkey is undergoing as a result of recent tensions with the U.S., the country is hardly inclined to side with its former Islamist allies.

The combatants, who have been designated as terrorists by the United Nations, have been blamed for launching drone attacks on Syria and Russian military targets. In recent days, Moscow has called Idlib a “festering abscess” and “hotbed of terrorism.” It was designated a de-escalation zone in 2017 by international powers, as sharp advances by the government and its allies forced militants to seek refuge in the northern region.

The group’s members would likely find themselves with nowhere in Syria to regroup, given that the country is almost entirely under the control of Damascus.

 

A warning from Moscow and an assurance from Damascus

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, center, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, enter a hall for their joint news conference followed their talks in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 30, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, center, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, enter a hall for their joint news conference followed their talks in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 30, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking from Moscow after talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem, noted that Moscow would remain vigilant against any attempts by Washington or its allies to derail the retaking of Idlib.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, Lavrov noted:

It is no secret that not everyone is happy with progress in resolving the Syrian issue, fighting against terrorism and creating conditions for the return of refugees … Attempts are being made to impede these processes and use various provocateurs, including extremists and well-known provocateurs calling themselves the White Helmets, who are famous for staging chemical weapons attacks and blaming them on the Syrian government in order to provide the Western countries with an excuse to carry out attacks on Syria.

Another provocation is being prepared in order to impede plans to carry out an anti-terrorist operation in Idlib …  Our Defense and Foreign Ministries presented facts to send a clear and strong warning to our Western counterparts against playing with fire.”

Lavrov added that any move to prevent the stabilization of Syria would have a negative effect on the region’s long-term security and prosperity, thus invoking the efforts of the U.S., Europe, and Arab states to ensure peace in Syria.

The Syrian foreign minister noted that the Syrian government was “at the final stage of solving the crisis in Syria and liberating our whole territory from terrorism” but does not possess chemical weapons or the capability to deliver them, according to the Syrian news agency SANA.

Top Photo | In this Sept. 19, 2013 photo, smoke rises after a rebel position is hit during heavy fighting village neighboring Idlib, Syria. Photo | AP

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

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