United Nations warns 30,000 already displaced from Syria's Idlib

Attack on Idlib could lead to worst loss of life this century: UN official

Turkey urged the global community on Tuesday "to vocally and actively support" Turkish calls for a cease-fire in Syria's last rebel-held stronghold in neighboring Idlib province where Syria and its allies have intensified attacks ahead of an expected offensive.

Erdogan warned that the planned counter-terrorism campaign in Idlib "would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond", apparently referring to a fresh influx of Syrian refugees in the wake of the Idlib battle.

The talks led by Staffan de Mistura ended with little comment to reporters at the United Nations offices in Geneva, and offered a sideshow to concerns about a looming battle for the northern province - the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria after seven years of war which is home to three million civilians.

"We can not allow terrorists to hold hostage and use hundreds of thousands of people of Idlib as human shields", said the Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia. He also stressed the need to prevent civilian casualties. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, known for its more conservative estimates, has verified over 6,000 civilian deaths caused by Moscow.

"There needs to be ways of dealing with this problem that doesn't turn the next few months in Idlib into the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life in the 21st century", the UN's new humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, told reporters in Geneva, AFP reports.

On Tuesday US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Assad has been well warned against any chemical weapons use in an anticipated assault on Idlib province.

Erdogan failed to secure a pledge for a ceasefire from Russian Federation and Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main backers, at a trilateral summit in Tehran.

More news: Canada backs British claims Russian officials approved spy's poisoning

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian Federation and Iran, have been massing troops for weeks around Idlib in preparation for an attack.

Russia's foreign minister has submitted documentation based on "concrete facts" to the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons warning of a potential false-flag chemical weapons operation coming in Syria's Idlib province.

Erdogan, who met with his Russian and Iranian counterparts at a summit in Tehran last week, also said Russia and Iran had a responsibility to stop the humanitarian disaster in Idlib.

Erdogan said that a focus on the potential use of chemical weapons alone was not enough.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem spoke to Russia Today: "We do not want to come into conflict with Turkey but they must understand that Idlib is Syrian soil!"

Ankara, which already hosts more than three million Syrian refugees, fears a new mass exodus and has called repeatedly for a ceasefire to give time for a negotiated settlement.

"It is a very major preoccupation for us", he said. "We're talking about a terrorist operation".

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