US warns Russia to 'change its policies' on Idlib
The US special envoy for Syria engagement, James Jeffrey, said Washington is "very, very worried" about the Syrian regime's assault - backed by Russia - on Idlib province.
Jeffrey called on Moscow to help halt the bloody assault on the opposition province that has uprooted thousands of civilians and killed hundreds.
"This is a dangerous conflict. It needs to be brought to an end. Russia needs to change its policies," Jeffrey said.
His comments come after the Syrian regime and Russian forces launched new attacks on the opposition province, aimed at capturing Idlib City.
Syrian opposition military sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that Russian planes were bombing the road between Idlib City and the village of Qumenas, six kilometres southeast of the provincial capital.
Syria Weekly: Assad regime celebrates capture of Maarat Al-Numan, an Idlib ghost town
Regime forces on Tuesday advanced to within eight kilometres of the city, having re-captured the village of Nayrab one day after opposition forces drove them out.
Regime military sources said that they were trying to advance from Nayrab to Qumenas amid heavy fighting with opposition fighters.
The sharp escalation in violence prompted the US, UK and France to call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation in Idlib.
"We're seeing not just the Russians but Iranians and Hezbollah actively involved in supporting the Syrian offensive. We don't know whether the offensive is just to get to the M4-M5 road, or it may continue further," Jeffrey said, in reference to the strategic highways connecting Syria's Aleppo to Hama and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and the other linking Aleppo and Damascus.
Jeffrey said Moscow could change its policies and meet the requirements of the international community without ousting Assad.
"Those requirements are not unreasonable. ... They require a change in that (Assad) government's behaviour. That government would not survive a week without the Russian assistance," he said
Russia's presence in Syria complicates matters. Following the partial withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, Moscow has increased its own military presence in the northeast of the country.
But Jeffrey said on Wednesday there have been more incidents of Russia's violating the terms of de-conflict agreement with pro-US forces.
"We've seen a limited number of occasions where... they've tried to come deep into the area where we and the [Syrian Democratic Forces] are patrolling well inside the basic lines we have sketched," he said.
"Those are the ones that are worrying me."
He said that while the numbers of such incidents were not very high, they were on the rise.
"This is troubling," he said, calling on Moscow to adhere fully to the de-conflict agreements made with the US.