Chemical weapons are being prepared for Idlib assault, says US envoy to Syria
There is "lots of evidence" chemical weapons are being prepared by Syrian government forces in the Idlib region in northwest Syria, the new US representative for Syria said on Thursday, warning that any attack on the last big rebel enclave would be a "reckless escalation".
"I am very sure that we have very, very good grounds to be making these warnings," said Jim Jeffrey, who was appointed on 17 August as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's special adviser on Syria, overseeing talks on a political transition in that country.
"Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation," Jeffrey told reporters. "There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."
Washington has issued a strong warning to Syria's government against using chemical weapons in the widely expected offensive.
Jeffrey said any offensive by Russian and Syrian forces, and the use of chemical weapons, would force huge refugee flows into southeastern Turkey or areas in Syria under Turkish control.
The Syrian government has massed its army and allied forces on the frontlines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined the bombardment of rebels there, a prelude to a possible assault.
The fate of the rebel stronghold in and around Idlib province now seems to rest on a meeting to be held in Tehran on Friday among the leaders of Russia and Iran and Turkey.
The US Treasury Department said on Thursday it was imposing sanctions on four people and five entities it said were involved in petroleum shipments and financing to the Syrian government.
It said in a statement that the sanctions targeted Muhammad al-Qatirji and his trucking company, which it said facilitated fuel trade between the Syrian government and Islamic State group militants.
The Syria-based Qatirji Company has also shipped weapons to Syria from Iraq, the statement said.
UAE-based International Pipeline Construction was subjected to sanctions as it is owned or controlled by Hesco Engineering, which facilitates payments originating in Syria, it said.
The sanctions mean any property in the United States of those targeted will be blocked and Americans are prohibited from doing business with them.