On September 4th, US President Donald Trump warned Russia, Iran and Syria against a “reckless attack” on the Idlib Province in Northwestern Syria.
“President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and allies have been amassing a huge military presence near Idlib in recent days, where opposition fighters and terrorist groups are holding out among a population of approximately 3 million people.
The UN also warned that it was bracing for “the most horrific tragedy” in Idlib and dubbed it a “dumping ground” for militants and civilians who have been pushed out of successive pockets of opposition-held territory.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, warned as many as 800,000 people could be displaced if the fighting does begin.
Trump’s tweet comes as Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the start of his visit to Damascus said that “terrorists must be purged” from the province and Idlib in its entirety must be returned under government control.
“Syria’s territorial integrity should be safeguarded and all tribes and groups, as one society, should start the reconstruction process, and the refugees should return to their homes,” Mr Zarif said.
Zarif met with President Assad and the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. They mostly discussed the expected September 7th summit, which will happen in Tehran. Russian, Turkish, Syrian and Iranian leaders are supposed to meet and discuss the situation in Idlib.
A statement from Assad’s office said that Iran and Syria “had similar views on the different issues” that are to be discussed. The statement further read that Assad and Zarif said that resorting to “threats and pressure reflect the failure of those countries to realise their plans for the region after Syria and Iran confronted them.”
Zarif also said that a consultation “with our Syrian friends” was necessary prior to the summit.
Assad and Zarif also discussed what they called “western pressure” on their two countries, in apparent reference to the US sanctions on Iran and calls for limiting Iran’s role in Syria.
Israel has grown nervous of Iran’s growing presence in Syria and threatened to prevent a build-up of pro-Iranian forces near its frontiers with Syria. Russia, another Syria ally, and Damascus have also said that Western countries are preparing to carry out strikes against Syria ahead of the Idlib offensive.
On August 26th, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami visited Damascus, where he signed a “defense and technical agreement.” This showed that Iran does not plan to reduce its influence in Syria, much to Israel’s discontent.
To reinforce the notion that Iran has no plans of ending its influence in Syria, USNI news cited a panel of Middle East experts on August 30th. According to them, the Iranian influence in Syria “is in no danger of dissipating as its civil war rages on and millions more of its citizens may soon be fleeing their homes in a new round of fighting.”
The report also read:
““The Iranians are playing the long-game here” through its power base of Hezbollah in Lebanon and strong influence in Shia-controlled Iraq, Charles Lister, director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Program at the Middle East Institute, said at the Hudson Institute on Wednesday. Tehran has 70,000 to 100,000 fighters in Syria through its own forces and proxies backing the Bashar al Assad regime.”
Russia also acknowledges that the pressure from the US and Israel to persuade Iran to withdraw its presence from Syria cannot lead to any actual results.
PressTV also reported that US calls for Iran and Hezbollah to leave Syria are meaningless. The outlet cited Lebanon’s al-Akhbar daily which reported that a US delegation, comprising security and intelligence officials had visited Damascus and June and met President Assad’s special security advisor Ali Mamlouk. According to the report, the meeting set three conditions for US forces to leave Syria, including the withdrawal of Iranian advisors from southern Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, data on “terrorist groups” and a role in the oil business in eastern Syria.
The US State Department denied these claims. Furthermore, Russia also said that the reports are untrue.
Speaking on September 3rd, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem described the conditions as “meaningless,” emphasizing that it is the “victors” who are eligible to set out conditions, “not the US which has been defeated in Syria.”
He also hailed the achievements made by the Syrian army and its allies against the militants:
Hezbollah and the Syrian government are now in the stage of “successive victories for Syria and its axis. We have lifted this black cloud, victories will continue, and we will achieve more,” the Hezbollah official noted, cited by PressTV.