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Sunday November 29th, 2020 11:46AM

The Latest: UN chief: A 'bloodbath' must be averted in Idlib

By The Associated Press
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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

11:45 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is appealing to all parties directly and indirectly involved in Syria — especially Iran, Russia, and Turkey — to protect civilians and avoid a "bloodbath" in the last major rebel-held stronghold in Idlib.

He said a full-scale battle in Idlib "would unleash a humanitarian nightmare unlike any seen in the blood-soaked Syrian conflict."

Guterres said he understands that "the present situation in Idlib is not sustainable and the presence of terrorist groups cannot be tolerated."

But the U.N. chief said it is especially important that Iran, Russia and Syria — the guarantor states in the so-called "Astana process" aimed at ending the violence in Syria — "find a way in which it is possible to isolate terrorist groups and ... create a situation in which civilians will not be the price paid to solve the problem in Idlib."

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21:55 p.m.

Turkey's U.N. ambassador is urging the international community "to vocally and actively support" Turkish calls for a complete cease-fire in Syria's last rebel-held stronghold in Idlib province.

Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that "an all-out military operation would result in a major humanitarian catastrophe" and "trigger a massive wave of refugees and tremendous security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond."

He said President Bashar Assad's regime seeks to legitimize its military operation in Idlib on the grounds that it's fighting terrorism.

But the Turkey envoy warned that such an operation "would create further suffering, alienate and radicalize more Syrians" and "would only play into the hands of terrorists."

Sinirlioglu stressed that "only a viable cease-fire would allow the creation of an environment to effectively fight terrorism."

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21:40

Iran's U.N. ambassador is warning the U.S., Britain and France against using force against Syria "under the pretext" of its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Gholamali Khoshroo told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Syria's declared chemical weapons have been destroyed and this would only be "a fabrication to use force" and "further complicate the situation."

Khoshroo was addressing a council meeting on last Friday's summit of the presidents of Iran and Russia, allies of the Syrian government, and Turkey, which supports the opposition.

He said the three presidents "are determined to continue cooperation to eliminate all terrorists."

Khoshroo said the fight against terrorism in the last rebel stronghold in Idlib "is an integral part of the mission of restoring peace and stability to Syria, but this combat must not hurt the civilians."

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9:15 p.m.

Russia's envoy for Syria says that Russia, Turkey and Iran should be able to reach a compromise on Syria's rebel-held province of Idlib.

President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, emphasized that it's Turkey's responsibility to persuade the rebels in Idlib to disassociate themselves from the al-Qaida-linked militants. He voiced confidence that Russian, Turkish and Iranian militaries could negotiate a mutually acceptable position on Idlib.

Lavrentiev spoke after talks in Geneva with the U.N. envoy for Syria and top diplomats from Turkey and Iran. They focused on a looming Syrian government offensive on Idlib.

The Russian envoy said rebels in Idlib are preparing to stage a fake chemical attack they intend to blame on the Syrian government. He strongly warned the U.S. and its allies against using that "provocation" to strike Syria. He presented no evidence of the claim.

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8:55 p.m.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley is accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies Russia and Iran of "demolishing" the last major rebel-held stronghold in Idlib and asking Western opponents "to call it peace" and fund reconstruction efforts in the country.

Haley, the U.N. envoy, again warned Assad and his allies that any assault on Idlib would be considered "reckless" by the U.S. and "the consequences will be dire. The world will hold them responsible."

She told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that "Russia has the power to stop the catastrophe looming in Idlib."

Haley said the Trump administration hasn't seen any actions "to indicate that Russia, Iran and Assad are interested in a political solution."

"All we've seen are the actions of cowards interested in a bloody military conquest of Idlib," she said.

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8:45 p.m.

Russia's U.N. ambassador says "terrorists" can't be allowed to hold hundreds of thousands of people as "human shields" in Syria's last major rebel-held stronghold in Idlib where "tens of thousands" of fighters linked to al-Qaida, the Islamic State and other extremist groups are concentrated.

Vassily Nebenzia was briefing the U.N. Security Council on last Friday's summit of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Tehran, stressing that the three countries are committed "to continue helping with a definitive elimination of terrorism in Syria."

He told council members Tuesday there is "an urgent need" to separate opposition fighters seeking a political settlement from the "terrorists" in Idlib, and urged those with influence to exert pressure to achieve this. He also stressed the need to prevent civilian casualties.

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8:00 p.m.

A senior Turkish official says political advisers of the leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany will meet in Istanbul later this week to discuss Syria and other issues.

Ibrahim Kalin — an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who will represent Turkey at Friday's meeting — said the officials will carry out "preliminary preparations" for a possible summit between the four leaders. A date for the summit would be set later.

Last week, Russia and Iran backed military action against Idlib, the last rebel-held region in Syria, despite a call by Turkey for a cease-fire.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Kalin said: "the aim is to tackle regional issues, and especially Syria, in a coordinated manner. We believe that (the summit) will yield concrete results."

He added: "it is not fair to place the burden (concerning Syria) on Turkey's shoulders and to stand back."

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6:30 p.m.

The Russian military says that rebels in Syria have staged a fake chemical attack they intend to blame on the Syrian government.

The military's Center for Reconciliation in Syria said that crews from several Mideastern nations' TV networks and an unidentified U.S. news channel filmed the scene in the town of Jisr al-Shugur in the northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday. It did not provide any evidence of the claim.

It says the filming featured a purported Syrian government attack by barrel bombs filled with chlorine.

The statement is the latest in a series of Russian warnings that rebels in Idlib were preparing a fake chemical attack to blame on Bashar Assad's government and trigger a military strike by the U.S. and its allies.

U.N. investigators have previously attributed several chemical attacks in Syria to government forces, including one attack using the nerve agent Sarin gas against the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017.

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6:15 p.m.

Turkey's foreign minister is calling for joint efforts to stop an assault on the last rebel stronghold in Syria and to work together to eliminate terror groups in the region.

Mevlut Cavusoglu's comments on Tuesday come amid fears of a looming attack by Syrian government forces on the northern province of Idlib that is home to some 3 million civilians.

Iran and Russia last week backed a military campaign on Idlib despite Turkey's pleas for a cease-fire.

"Let's stop this this fight," Cavisoglu said. "And if the concern is the presence of the terrorist groups, let's work together to eliminate them."

He added that Turkey was "ready to work with Russia, ready to work with Iran, with the US, France, and the UK and all partners and actors in Syria."

Cavusoglu was speaking in Bucharest at the end of a trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Romania and Poland.

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2:50 p.m.

A Syria war monitoring group says 21 pro-government gunmen have been killed in clashes with the Islamic State group in southern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighters died in clashes with the militants Monday night in the Safaa region in the Syrian desert.

Government forces backed by local and regional militias have been battling the militants for weeks in the countryside north of Sweida since the militants ambushed the city and its environs in July.

The militants are holding some 30 civilians captive since kidnapping them in the assault. They are believed to be holding them in the Safaa area.

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1 p.m.

Turkey's president has urged the international community to act toward preventing a Syrian government offensive against Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

In an op-ed printed in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the offensive on Idlib would "create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond."

His comments came days after Iran and Russia backed a military campaign in Idlib despite Turkey's pleas for a cease-fire.

Syrian Government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have been massing troops for weeks in preparation for an attack.

Erdogan said the attack would amount to "indiscriminate attacks to wipe out its opposition and not a genuine or effective campaign against terrorism."

The Turkish president also said Russia and Iran had the responsibility to stop the humanitarian disaster.

___

11:30 a.m.

A U.S.-backed Syrian fighting force says it has launched a campaign to clear the Islamic State group from its last pocket in northeast Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces says operations began on Monday to expel IS militants from the town of Hajin and surrounding villages on the northeast banks of the Euphrates River.

The SDF is supported by the U.S.-led international coalition against IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says coalition jets have bombed locations across the IS pocket in conjunction with the SDF ground offensive. The group says at least 23 IS fighters have been killed in the first 24 hours of battle.

The jihadist group today holds just a fraction of the territory it held at its 2014 peak.

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