Pope calls for all parties to safeguard Syrian civilians in Idlib

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Washington sees a potential attack on Idlib as an escalation of an already risky conflict, U.S. secretary says.

"I assure you that we do not have chemical weapons and are not able to use them", Walid al-Moualem told reporters.

Five children were among 12 civilians killed by the Daesh terrorist group in Syria last month while unidentified parties were responsible for the death of 88 civilians, including 25 children and 17 women, it added. It has been argued that Turkey may be involved in convincing Tahrir al-Sham (called also Jabhat al-Nusra) to merge with other armed groups.

But analysts say Ankara could be prepared to accept a limited Russian-backed regime offensive against extremist groups, even if it leaves the question of the long-term control of the province open for now.

Turkey, too, is expressing grave concern about an attack, anxious it will bear the brunt of the humanitarian and security fallout.

They include tens of thousands of rebels and civilians evacuated to Idlib from other areas recaptured by government troops.

The US well aware that any possible military action against the legitimate government of Syria must be made by consensus of the worldwide community.

"Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed".

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned Russian Federation that seeking a military solution in Idlib would cause "catastrophe" and trigger an new influx of refugees across its borders.

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"At our meeting with Nasr Al-Hariri, president of Syrian Negotiations Commission, we exchanged views on recent developments in Syria, including Idlib and also the period ahead concerning the political process", Cavusoglu said in a tweet.

The area, which has been controlled by rebels since 2015, has been targeted by government and Russian Federation air and artillery strikes for months, devastating infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. The battle for Idlib might be the last in seven years of civil war.

A major offensive in the Idlib area, where displaced people already make up half the population, risks forcing another 700,000 Syrians from their homes, the United Nations has said.

It bracketed HTS as a variant name for Al-Nusra Front.

HTS has controlled much of Idlib since 2015, acting as de facto governmental authority, facilitating trade across the long border with Turkey and organising aid deliveries.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said an all-out assault on Idlib and its catastrophic consequences could still be avoided. On Friday, however, Turkey officially declared the group a terrorist movement, a designation also used for the group by the United States and European Union.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Damascus to discuss plans for an upcoming summit between the leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey, which Tehran will host on September 7 to discuss Idlib, Iran's Fars news agency reported.

While he quickly backed away from talk of an immediate withdrawal, his underlying determination to leave Syria's seven-year war as soon as possible seems unchanged.