BY Guardian staff and agencies
Donald Trump has warned Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian president’s allies Iran and Russia not to “recklessly attack” in the rebel-held Idlib province, warning that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.
“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!” Trump tweeted on Monday night.
Up to three million people in the region are bracing for imminent attack by Russian forces who sense victory in one of the last parts of Syria still out of regime control. On Friday the Russian navy manoeuvred in the nearby Mediterranean, while other nations also took positions; the Turkish army sent an armoured convoy deep into Syria, Iranian-backed militias mobilised to the south and the Syrian army was placed on high alert.
The northern province and surrounding areas are the last major enclave held by insurgents fighting Assad, who has been backed by both Russian and Iranian forces in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.
Trump has sought better relations with Russia since taking office in 2017 but the US has been unable to rein in Moscow’s military and diplomatic support for Assad.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said on Friday that Washington viewed any government assault on Idlib as an escalation of Syria’s war, and the state department warned that Washington would respond to any chemical attack by Damascus.