Moscow: no major assault planned on Idlib in Syria

The comments came after talks in the southern Russian city of Sochi, backed by Iran and Turkey

In this photo released by Lebanon's official government photographer Dalati Nohra, Russia's special presidential envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, speaks to journalist at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, July 26, 2018. The Russian delegation is in Lebanon to discuss Russian proposals for organizing the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Syria to their homes in Syria. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

Russia on Tuesday said there were no plans for a major assault on Idlib, despite Syrian President Bashar Al Assad earlier saying it was a priority to retake the province.

“There’s currently no question and can be no question of an operation, of a major assault on Idlib,” Russia’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev said in remarks reported by Russian agencies.

The comments came after talks in the southern Russian city of Sochi, backed by Iran and Turkey and with representatives of Damascus and the Syrian rebels.

“We still hope that the moderate opposition and our Turkish partners, who took responsibility for stabilising this region, will manage it,” Mr Lavrentiev said.

“The threat coming from this zone is still significant,” he said.

Mr Assad last week said retaking Idlib, currently dominated by rebels and jihadists, was among the priorities of the Syrian military, which is backed by Moscow.

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Syrian regime envoy Bashar Jaafari said following the talks in Sochi that there could be “no compromises or middle-way solutions regarding Syrian territory returning to the control of the Syrian government”.

Mr Jaafari said the army would be within its rights to return the province to government control by force if a settlement could not be reached, in comments translated into Russian by news agencies.

For his part, opposition representative Ahmad Tohme demanded Idlib should move from “a de-escalation zone to a complete ceasefire zone”.

Regime-backers Moscow and Tehran, along with rebel-supporter Ankara, agreed to create four “de-escalation zones” under the Astana peace process launched last year as part of a move towards a nationwide ceasefire.

Idlib is part of one such zone. It borders Turkey to the north-west but is otherwise almost surrounded by regime territory, prompting fears the government would eventually attack it.

Idlib has received many rebels and families moved from other regions under Russian-brokered “reconciliation deals” that resulted in regime forces moving in to take rebel-held areas.

Lavrentiev on Tuesday also called on the United States to join the Astana peace process.

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