Iran called on Monday for militants to be "cleaned out" of Syria's Idlib province, as it prepared for talks with Syria and Russian Federation about confronting the last major enclave held by rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
Last year, they had designated Idlib as a "de-escalation" zone where violence would halt in preparation for a countrywide ceasefire.
While the prospective battle for Idlib is being described as the final act in the war, its recapture would not consolidate the regime's control over all of Syria, the eastern section of which remains largely in the hands of the US -backed, Kurdish YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (with Islamic State retaining small pockets of land near the southeast border with Iraq).
Most of Idlib province and adjacent strips of Hama province remain in the hands of an assortment of armed groups, some Turkey-backed and others independent Islamist groups.
A blast killed at least one person in a region of north Syria controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups, a witness and a war monitor said on Saturday.
ICG said Russian Federation, whose air support would be crucial for the offensive to succeed, should understand that a bloodbath in Idlib would jeopardise its own political goals. Sources have said that the regime's biggest supporter on ground, the Iranian militia, will be aiming to ensure it has control over the route by placing its forces in the area.
"By backing an all-out offensive, Russian Federation risks undermining its long-term political objectives in Syria", ICG wrote in a nine-page briefing entitled "Saving Idlib from destruction".
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The US well aware that any possible military action against the legitimate government of Syria must be made by consensus of the global community.
Further Iranian engagement in Syria meanwhile risks drawing Israel deeper into the conflict. John Bolton's recent threat of the possibility of an American missile strike against Syria can also be interpreted in this context.
Regarding Israel, the offensive will not alter its fundamental calculus, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reiterating Thursday that the military will continue to act in Syria as necessary.
Specifically, Russia has suggested that as a pretext for United States strikes against the Assad regime, humanitarian organizations in Syria were planning a chemical weapon attack. But state media later quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying the explosions were caused by an electrical malfunction in a munition depot nearby.
But these "verbal warning shots" have little to do with today's reality in Syria, said Jonas Parello-Plesner, a researcher with the Hudson Institute in Washington who recently published a study on the U.S. approach to the region.
The presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey will meet on September 7 in Iran for their third tripartite summit on seeking to end the conflict in Syria, Turkish state television said Monday.
The top Syrian diplomat said, however, that Syria was determined to retake Idlib whatever its costs.