United Nations expresses fears over heavy civilian toll, potential gas attacks in Idlib

Russia warned Western powers against any military intervention in Syria

Russia warned Western powers against any military intervention in Syria

As war talk snowballed on Thursday, the United Nations envoy for Syria suggested evacuations of civilians to government areas - a move that would send many back into parts of Syria they once fled during the war - after urging for more talks.

Government forces have been massing around Idlib for days and looked poised to launch what could be the last major battle of the civil war that has torn Syria apart since 2011.

Russia, the government's main military ally, has also stepped up its rhetoric. "They were behind the organization of those fabricated scenarios for the use of chemical weapons and now they are preparing such a development of the situation with the use of chemical weapons in Idlib", Muallem said.

Russia, whose 2015 military intervention helped the government reclaim much of the ground it had lost, wants the jihadist outfit to disband, he said.

The fighters must be defeated, Mr de Mistura said, but not at the expense of thousands of civilian lives. Moualem said Syrian forces would try to avoid civilian casualties.

Moualem said Syria would "go all the way" in their efforts in Idlib, but would try to avoid civilian casualties.

It would be better to set up humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians than rush into a battle which could prove to be a "perfect storm", he said.

Is Russia likely to get involved again?

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

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at a news briefing Thursday that Moscow had information that a large volume of toxic substances had been delivered to the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

Nusra has changed its names several times and is now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

"We all are aware that both the government and al-Nusra have the capability to produce weaponized chlorine".

"Attempts are being made to impede these processes and use various provocateurs, including extremists and well-known provocateurs calling themselves the White Helmets, who are famous for staging chemical weapons attacks and blaming them on the Syrian government in order to provide the western countries with an excuse to carry out attacks on Syria", the Russian top diplomat pointed out.

Cem Devrim Yalalı, who monitors military navigation along the Turkish Straits, says Russian Federation has in recent days sent 11 new vessels into the Mediterranean, almost doubling its naval presence.

He added the "hotbed of terrorists" in Idlib must be tackled.

The situation raises hard questions for Washington, which has claimed its own military victory against the Islamic State in Syria but faces accusations from Russian Federation of tacitly supporting other militants - including some holed up Idlib - in a bid to prevent the Assad regime from consolidating its hold on power.

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