Russian Federation to hold 'large-scale' drills in Mediterranean

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Turkey has proposed that the United States share intelligence with Russian Federation and Iran on Syrian extremist groups to prevent what could become the biggest humanitarian crisis of the seven-year war.

President Bashar Assad is determined to retake Idlib, and has vowed to eventually bring all of Syria back under his government's control.

Now they have nowhere left to turn, after other opposition pockets have collapsed, and Turkey has largely sealed its borders to new refugees.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday that USA officials are privately pressing Russia to ensure no chemical attack occurs in Idlib - even as Russian officials insinuated that it's the West that is likely staging a chemical assault of its own as a "false flag" pretext to once again strike Mr. Assad's forces.

The Russian embassy in the United States said in a statement on Facebook that ambassador Anatoly Antonov earlier this week met U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey and Acting Assistant Secretary David Satterfield.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Thursday it would hold naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea from September 1 to September 8 and that 25 vessels and 30 planes would take part, the TASS news agency reported.

This sentiment was echoed by de Mistura on Thursday, who called for humanitarian corridors to be opened in the province, and said he would travel there himself in order to secure them. The leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russian Federation are slated to meet next week in Tabriz to discuss the mounting crisis.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey is collaborating with Russian Federation and Iran "to prevent an Aleppo-like disaster" in Idlib.

The leaders of Russia, Iran, and Turkey are slated to meet next week in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz, where many are hoping for a deal to avert a calamitous battle over Idlib.

The drills come amid a regional buildup of warships that Russian news outlets have described as the largest of its kind since Moscow's forces entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.

Lavrov had told reporters that there was a political understanding between Turkey and Russian Federation on the need to distinguish between the Syrian opposition and people he described as terrorists in Idlib province while not ruling out military action.

The first phase of the offensive will include the town of Jisr al Shughour and the al Ghab plain on the western side of Idlib, and the towns of al Latamenah, Khan Sheikhoun and Maarat al Numan in its south, the Reuters source, said.

Idlib has been a haven for rebels and their families evacuated out of areas won back by the government, but there is no obvious place for them to move to within Syria if they abandon the province now. Many are already living in camps in Idlib amid dire conditions, with 2 million in need of humanitarian aid. It has stepped up air strikes and shelling near the front lines, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said. But the strongest alliance of fighters is led by an al-Qaida-linked group that controls most of the area that is also home to some 3 million people.