The U.N. director of humanitarian operations gave out a dire warning on Tuesday that an outright Syrian government offensive in the province of Idlib "has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen" in the seven-year civil war. Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in northern-western Syria.
Those comments followed evidence that an assault is looming, with a major build-up of Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea as well as increasingly frequent air raids over the province.
John Ging called on members of the U.N. Security Council "to do all they can to ensure that we avoid this." Idlib is home to an estimated three million Syrians – many who have already been displaced from their homes from other parts of Syria.
Ging said recent weeks have seen "a further serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation" with intense bombing and shelling reported in parts of Idlib as well as Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces resulting in civilian deaths and destruction of schools and hospitals.
An offensive on Idlib seems to be Syrian’ ruler Bashar Al-Assad’s move to retake most of Syria’s cities which had fallen to the hands of various factions – rebel fighters opposing him, Islamic State fighters and Al-Qaeda fighters.
It is not just the UN that has raised alarm over signs of troop movement towards Idlib. Turkey which hosts close to three million Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria said last Friday it would be disastrous to seek a military solution in the northern Syrian region of Idlib.
"A military solution here would be a disaster, not just for the Idlib region, but a disaster in terms of Syria's future," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister told reporters during his visit to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Meanwhile, Russia has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting regarding the possible offensive in Syria's Idlib province. Moscow says it has received information that rebels might stage a chemical attack, and then blame it on the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. has in-turn warned the Syrian regime that it will respond to any chemical weapons attacks in the northern Syria province of Idlib. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added that the U.S. would respond to any verified chemical weapons use in Idlib or elsewhere in Syria "in a swift and appropriate manner".
As the heads of various governments meet to dissuade Assad and Russia from attacking Idlib, there is also a build-up of jihadist rebels in the area. Rebel fighters in Hama, Idlib, and Latakia governorates have assembled a massive force in response to the Syrian Arab Army’s large-scale military buildup in these provinces, according to a news report emerging from Lebanon. This mobilisation of thousands of fighters in northwest Syria harkens back to offensive in the Spring of 2015. If indeed Assad does launch a full-scale offensive like the one on Aleppo, it can be rest assured that the fight for Idlib is going to be a long and bloody one.