Man in Idlib fearing chemical attack makes gas mask from party cups

Charlene Craig
September 11, 2018

The intensive strikes resumed on Sunday, according to residents and rescuers, as Damascus stepped up its assault on the area after a Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit failed to agree on a ceasefire. This siege, like others before it, portends a massacre of innocents. And Turkey, the USA and France have threatened to retaliate against Syria, though the countries didn't say exactly what could lead to a military response.

Last week the French ambassador, whose country also vowed to strike Syria if what it deems credible chemical allegations emerge, said during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Idlib: "Syria is once again at the edge of an abyss".

A third USA strike likely would be more expansive than the first two, and Mr. Trump would again have to consider whether or not to hit targets like Russian air defenses in an effort to deliver a more punishing blow to Mr. Assad's military.

On Saturday, the United States' top general said he and Trump have "routine dialogue" about possible military consequences if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons in Idlib.

Can the USA change the trajectory of a potential humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib? Syrian and Russian officials - key allies in Syria's long conflict - appear to be preparing for an all-out assault to retake the area for good.

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Further noting that Bashar Assad is trying to legitimize the planned Idlib offensive on counterterrorism grounds, he added that the extremists make just a fraction of the city's population. Today, Assad remains in power with the backing of Russian Federation and Iran, which now have footholds on this crucial Mideast turf.

During the debate this year over how to respond to the second attack, Mr. Trump's national-security team weighed the idea of hitting Russian or Iranian targets in Syria, people familiar with the discussions said.

But on Thursday, James Jeffrey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's newly appointed special envoy to Syria, indicated that the president has agreed to a new plan: us forces will remain in the country to ensure not just the defeat of the Islamic State but also the departure of all Iranian forces.

Turkey is anxious fighting will push a new wave of refugees toward its border, while the routing of moderate rebels triggers the collapse of worldwide peace efforts supposed to guarantee Ankara-backed forces a say in post-war Syria.

Turkey has accepted 3.5 million refugees from Syria since the beginning of the seven-year war.

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Some three million people have sought refuge in the northwestern province of Idlib, many of them after being displaced from other parts of Syria in the civil war.

The United Nations and human-rights groups have pleaded against any military offensive in fear of unprecedented bloodshed.

The U.S-backed Kurdish administration has recently begun talking with the Syrian government - essentially seeking government recognition of its self-rule areas. The U.S. still has 2,200 troops in northeast Syria.

"Arguably removing USA force presence [in northeast Syria] allows the Assad regime to retake that territory, and of course, who comes with them?"

That's not a satisfying or probably successful gambit. Relations between Washington and Ankara have bottomed out, but the two capitals have a common goal in discouraging an Idlib assault - perhaps by pushing Putin to restrain his client Assad. But having surrendered influential roles in Syria to Moscow and Tehran, that's about all Washington can do for now.

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