United Nations fears chemical weapons in Syria battle with '10,000 terrorists'

Russia announces 25 WARSHIPS deployed to MEDITERRANEAN amid fears of US attack on Syria

Syrian war: UN warns Russia, Iran and Turkey against battle in Idlib

Russia's Ministry of Defence said on Thursday it would hold a major naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea from September 1 to September 8, the TASS news agency reported, a move that coincides with rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over Syria.

Rebels from Idlib have blown up two key bridges in a bid to hamper an expected government assault on Syria's only remaining rebel-held province, a monitor said on Friday.

Syrian forces are preparing a phased offensive, a source close to Damascus said, that would focus on southern and westerns parts of the province but not Idlib city itself.

"We in HTS are striving to find an effective solution in the liberated Syrian north that would protect our people from a possible offensive by the criminal regime and its allies". Almost half of them arrived in Idlib in recent years after fleeing violence in other corners of Syria.

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With rebels defeated in most of Syria, such an offensive could prove to be the last big battle of the civil war.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Thursday, saying "we will go all the way" in Idlib and declaring the Nusra Front group, formerly the local branch of al Qaeda, as the main target.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday that US officials are privately pressing Russia to ensure no chemical attack occurs in Idlib - even as Russian officials insinuated that it's the West that is likely staging a chemical assault of its own as a "false flag" pretext to once again strike Mr. Assad's forces.

"This hotbed of terrorists (in Idlib) does really not bode anything good if such inaction continues", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

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"We warned the USA not to engage in another baseless and unlawful aggression against Syria".

The UN estimates that a major Syrian government offensive in the Idlib area risks forcing another 700,000 Syrians from their homes.

It also risks raising tensions with Turkey, whose army established a ring of observation posts around the rebel territory a year ago under a "de-escalation" deal with Russian Federation and Iran. Any major military operation would send a new wave of refugees to Turkey's border.

Lavrov had told reporters that there was a political understanding between Turkey and Russian Federation on the need to distinguish between the Syrian opposition and people he described as terrorists in Idlib province while not ruling out military action.

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