Turkish FM discusses Syria with United States counterpart on phone

Donald Trump Bashar al-Assad

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the U.S.is watching to see if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons during its offensive on the rebel-held bastion of Idlib, noting Syrian opposition fighters are not able to carry out such attacks.

On Tuesday, the United Nations peace envoy for Syria urged Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin to speak on the phone before Friday's summit.

The air raids "came a day after rebel units in Idlib hit regime positions in neighbouring Latakia province".

Turkey, Russia and Iran previous year designated Idlib a so-called "de-escalation zone", but that deal did not cover former Al-Qaeda affiliate HTS.

Moscow said four of its jets "inflicted strikes by high-precision weapons" on targets belonging to HTS.

With the United Nations warning of a potential "bloodbath" in Syria's Idlib province, the United States has warned President Bashar al-Assad it would respond "swiftly and appropriately" if he uses chemical weapons against his own people.

On Wednesday, regime artillery and rocket fire targeted several areas in the province including the HTS-held town of Jisr al-Shughur, according to the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

Damascus and its main backer, Moscow, have vowed to root out the jihadist groups that dominate Idlib province.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told Reuters that the situation in Idlib is of ongoing concern for Russian Federation.

Just a day earlier, Peskov had slammed Idlib as a "pocket of terrorism".

Its president, Tayyip Erdogan, was quoted by a Turkish newspaper saying an attack on Idlib would be "a serious massacre" and he hoped for a positive outcome from a summit with Russian and Iranian leaders on the matter on Friday.

Russian presidential advisor Yuri Ushakov described the meeting as "very important".

Peskov said numerous "terrorists" are holed up in the country's last rebel stronghold, leading to a "general destabilisation of the situation".

"Such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people", said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, warning the USA and its allies "will respond swiftly and appropriately".

U.S. defence chief Jim Mattis later dismissed reports that fighters inside Idlib may hold such weapons.

"If they want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they cannot do it with chemical weapons", she said. The US, UK, and France launched joint missile strikes on Syrian targets in response.

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