On Monday, the United Nations called for Russia, Iran and Turkey to prevent a battle in the Syrian province of Idlib that would affect millions of civilians and in which militants and the government could use chlorine as a chemical weapon.
The UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said there was a large concentration of foreign fighters in Idlib, including some 10,000 “terrorists” from the Al-Nusra Front and al Qaeda.
There would be no justification for using heavy weapons against them in densely populated areas, he said. Miscalculations can lead to unintended consequences, including the possible use of chemical weapons, he added.
“Avoiding the potential use of chemical weapons is really crucial,” De Mistura told reporters in Geneva. “We all know that both the government and al-Nusra have the capacity to produce chlorine as a weapon,” he added.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem also said on Thursday during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow: “We are in the final stage of resolving the crisis in Syria and freeing our entire territory from terrorism” .
“I assure you that we do not have chemical weapons and we are not capable of using them,” he added, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.
The Idlib province is the last large area controlled by the rebels in Syria. It is one of the areas in which Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to reduce the presence last year in a series of talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
But a source said on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was preparing a gradual offensive there. Lavrov said on Wednesday that the militants in Idlib had to be liquidated.
“Why such a hurry and not give more time to allow more discussions, especially among the guarantors of Astana?” De Mistura said referring to Russia, Iran and Turkey. “The lives of 2.9 million people are at stake,” he added.