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U.S. Envoy Warns That Syria Preparing To Use Chemical Weapons In Idlib

A member of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the "White Helmets," walking through the wreckage of their center, which was destroyed Thursday by government forces in the town of al-Tamana in rebel-held Idlib province.

A U.S. envoy says Washington has "lots of evidence" that Syrian government forces are preparing to use chemical weapons against rebel-held Idlib province.

Speaking to reporters, Jim Jeffrey, who was appointed in August as the State Department's Special Representative for Syrian Engagement, said Thursday that any such use of chemical weapons against the last rebel stronghold would be a "reckless escalation" of the conflict.

"I am very sure that we have very, very good grounds to be making these warnings," Jeffrey said. "There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."

Jeffrey called the situation in Idlib "very dangerous" and suggested that Turkey, which has backed rebel groups inside the country, was trying to find a peaceful solution.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, often backed by Russian warplanes, have steadily gained on the rebels. Idlib is the last major redoubt of the insurgents.

"I think the last chapter of the Idlib story has not been written. The Turks are trying to find a way out. The Turks have shown a great deal of resistance to an attack," he said.

Jeffrey's remarks come ahead of a meeting Friday between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syrian conflict.

As The Associated Press notes, "Iran wants to keep its foothold in the Mediterranean nation neighboring Israel and Lebanon. Turkey, which backed opposition forces against Syrian President Bashar Assad, fears a flood of refugees fleeing a military offensive and destabilizing areas it now holds in Syria. And Russia wants to maintain its regional presence to fill the vacuum left by America's long uncertainty about what it wants in the conflict."

Earlier this year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined that deadly chlorine gas was likely used by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the rebel-held city of Saraqib. The use of chemical weapons was also suspected in Douma and in April and on the towns of Talmenes in 2014 and Sarmin the following year.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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