US, Russia in war of words

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Asianbagla Desk : Russia has deployed a dozen warships to the Mediterranean Sea in what a Russian newspaper on Tuesday called Moscow’s largest naval buildup since it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.

The reinforcement comes as Russia’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is believed to be considering a major assault on the last rebel-held enclave in northern Idlib province, which is home to nearly three million people and has a large al-Qaeda presence in addition to several Syrian rebel groups.

Upping the ante, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday described IDlib militants as a “festering abscess” that needed to be liquidated.

Speaking after talks with his Saudi counterpart Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir in Moscow, Lavrov also told reporters that there was a political understanding between Turkey and Russia on the need to distinguish between the Syrian opposition and people he described as terrorists in Idlib Province.

Russia has accused the United States of building up its own forces in the Middle East in preparation for a possible strike on Syrian government forces.

The Izvestia newspaper said Russia had gathered its largest naval presence in the Mediterranean since it intervened in Syria in 2015 and turned the war’s tide in Assad’s favour.

The force included 10 vessels, most of them armed with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles, Izvestia wrote, adding more ships were on the way. Two submarines had also been deployed.

The US on Tuesday warned the Russian and Syrian governments against chemical weapon use in Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US “will respond to any verified chemical weapons use in Idlib or elsewhere in Syria … in a swift and appropriate manner”.

Turkish forces are seen yesterday in a convoy on a main highway between Damascus and Aleppo, near the town of Saraqib in Syria’s northern Idlib province. Photo: Reuters
The comments came as Russia again accused Syrian rebels of preparing a chemical attack that Moscow said will be used to justify a Western strike against Syrian troops.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday an al-Qaeda-linked group is preparing the attack in Idlib.

Last week, Russian Major-General Alexei Tsygankov, who heads the centre for reconciliation of warring parties in Syria, claimed British special services were involved in plans for the alleged provocation.

That brought a heated denial from Britain’s United Nations Ambassador, Karen Pierce, during a Security Council session on the humanitarian situation in Syria held on Tuesday.

“Even by the egregious standards of Russian propaganda, this is an extraordinary allegation,” she said. “It is wholly untrue.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “If the defence ministry says something, then it says that based on concrete facts”.

The UN director of humanitarian operations warned a major offensive in Idlib “has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen” in the seven-year civil war.

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