Erdogan urges global community to avert Idlib assault

Intense air raids reported on edge of Syria's rebel-held Idlib

A leading United Nations official warned on Monday that a Syrian regime offensive on an opposition province could spark the "worst humanitarian crisis" of the 21st century.

Damascus, backed by allies Russian Federation and Iran, has been preparing a major assault to recover Idlib and adjacent areas of northwest Syria from rebels.

"We haven't said that the U.S. would use the military in response to an offensive", an administration official was quoted saying. "That's something we're monitoring very closely", OCHA spokesman David Swanson told the AFP news agency.

Other aid organisations also operate in the area, but their support is mostly limited to providing supplies to civilians already living in the existing border camps.

On Monday, on the main highway running across the province, men on motorbikes headed north with their children on foot, herding dozens of sheep.

Erdogan said the USA, which is focused on chemical attacks by the Assad regime, needed to "reject its arbitrary hierarchy of death".

"We go wherever it's safe", said the man in his 30s. "Every day, I need water, hay, and bran to feed them".

Witnesses said hundreds of families had begun fleeing from villages and towns in southern Idlib that have been the target of heavy strikes closer to camps near the Turkish border.

Idlib is estimated to be now home to about three million civilians, including one million children, many of whom have already fled fighting elsewhere in Syria, or have been evacuated there under resettlement deals, as well as tens of thousands of fighters.

On Friday at a summit in Tehran, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey could not agree on staving off military action in the province.

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Meanwhile, the bombs keep falling.

"We've tried to convey the message in recent days that if there's a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger", Bolton told reporters on Monday.

The local council of Morek, a town that serves as a crossing between Hama and Idlib, sent an urgent appeal, asking Turkey to intervene.

Abu al-Baraa al-Hamawi, a rebel leader in northern Hama, said about 95 percent of people had left a number of villages in northern and western Hama province and in southern Idlib province in the last three days due to intensive air strikes.

Since 2015, Idlib has been home to a complex array of anti-regime forces: secular rebels, Islamists, Syrian jihadists with ties to Al-Qaeda - and their foreign counterparts.

Its population ballooned as the regime chalked up a series of victories across the country, reaching deals that saw tens of thousands of rebels and civilians bussed into Idlib.

At least two hospitals and two centers running rescue operations for wounded people were put out of service by shelling and air strikes, according to the Britain-based Observatory and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which backs medical centers in Syria.

The new strategy reflects a push to ramp up pressure on the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian backers, as Assad appears poised to complete a remarkable rebound in the country's seven-year civil war. The talks are hosted by United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura and also include senior Russian and Turkish officials.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the raids targeted jihadist and rebel positions, some of which were empty and others in use.

Turkey fears a full-scale operation by Russian Federation and Syria will create a new wave of massive refugee influx into the country already hosting over three million Syrians.

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