Offensive to retake Idlib Province could be deadliest in conflict

World Today

FILE – In this Sept. 19, 2013, file photo, smoke rises after a TNT bomb was thrown from a helicopter, hitting a rebel position during heavy fighting between troops loyal to president Bashar Assad and opposition fighters, in a neighbouring village to Kafr Nabuda, in the Idlib province countryside, Syria. The campaign for Idlib, the opposition’s only remaining stronghold in the country and now a refuge for over one million displaced Syrians, is likely to be the last major theater of battle after seven years of brutal civil war. (AP Photo/File)

Syrian government forces are ready to “go all the way” to retake Idlib province – according to the country’s Foreign Minister.

Russia and Syria are finalizing plans to overtake the country’s last rebel-held stronghold.

The offensive on Idlib expected – any day.

CGTN’s Lucy Taylor reports from Moscow.

Follow Lucy Taylor on Twitter @lucytaylor

It could be the final fight in the Syrian conflict. But it could also be the deadliest.

Idlib province is the last big rebel-held enclave.

Syria and Russia call it a ‘hotbed of terrorists’ who need to be ‘flushed out’.

“The decision of Syrian authorities is to exterminate al-Nusra in Idlib and we will go all the way. We say that the priority is to consolidate with any local groups that wish to do so. We will exert all efforts to avoid civilian casualties,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said.

But the United Nations’ Syria envoy Staffan di Mistura warns that a ‘perfect storm’ is building for the people of Idlib – many already displaced and with nowhere else to go.

“The estimates of the Al-Quaeda, Al-Nusra, whatever name they want to call themselves is, more or less, around 10,000 of them, plus families. Now, the people in Idlib larger area are 2.9 million people. So, there is and there can be no justification in order to fight rightfully terrorists to not avoid using heavy weapons in densely populated areas.”

De Mistura also warned that both sides in the battle could use chemical weapons, though Syria denies it has any. Meanwhile, Russia has accused the West of planning to stage a chemical attack, to justify an attack on Syrian forces.

As Russia and Syria plan their next steps, the civilians of Idlib are no doubt growing nervous.

These two allies describe Idlib as the last hotbed of terror in Syria. But it is also home to almost three million people. The next offensive, when it comes, may turn out to be the final stage of this deadly seven-year conflict – but the warnings are that it could also be the worst.

Kamal Alam talks about the impact of a military assault on Idlib, Syria

CGTN’s Asieh Namdar talks with Kamal Alam, visiting fellow with the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, about the impact of a possible military offensive on Idlib, Syria.