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

The state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said Saturday that Syrian government was retaliating against rebel shelling on a government-held south of Idlib.

While the Syrian government has regained control over most of the country's territories following several years of armed conflicts with opposition and militant groups, including terrorist organizations, the Idlib de-escalation zone remains a stronghold of insurgency and is still being cleared of terrorists.

The Wall Street Journal has just published a bombshell on Sunday evening as Russian and Syrian warplanes continue bombing raids over al-Qaeda held Idlib, citing unnamed United States officials who claim "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against the country's last major rebel stronghold".

"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", John Bolton said, while fielding questions after a policy speech. Video from a pro-opposition news agency shows smoke from what it said were bombings in multiple villages.

"Regime helicopters dropped more than 60 barrel bombs on the village of Hobait in Idlib's southern countryside, killing at least one young girl" and wounding six other people, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

He said the strikes targeted positions of both rebel groups and the rival Hayat Tahrir Al Sham alliance, led by Al Qaeda's former Syrian affiliate and comprised mostly of hardline Islamist groups.

The United Nations has warned that any military campaign in Idlib could push up to 800,000 people to flee their homes.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, left, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leave a news conference after meeting in Tehran on Friday. "The consequences of inaction are enormous", Erdogan said in the article titled "The World Must Stop Assad".

President Bashar al-Assad has now set his sights on Idlib, and his forces have stepped up bombardment of the densely populated province since the beginning of the month.

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Nicholas Heras, a researcher at the Centre for New American Security, said the spike in Russian raids on Saturday aimed to put pressure on Turkey to agree to a deal for a regime takeover of Idlib.

"Perhaps Putin has come to the conclusion that the gap between Turkey and the West has reached an unbridgeable distance, and that he can disregard Ankara's wishes regarding Idlib because he sees that Turkey has nowhere to go in addition to being ever-more dependent on Russian Federation and Iran for energy", he said.

Can the USA change the trajectory of a potential humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib?

"As the Russian strikes have intensified over the past 10 days, there's been a major displacement from southern Idlib and northern Hama (province) toward the Syrian-Turkish border".

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's civil war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

The Syrian regime recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which has always been controlled by various armed opposition groups.

The Observatory said shooting broke out when Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint demanded that regime fighters step out of their patrol vehicle but they refused. "Some have even started to move under the trees in the hope that it will save them", said Mahmoud.

"Arguably removing US force presence [in northeast Syria] allows the Assad regime to retake that territory, and of course, who comes with them?"

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