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Trump warns Syria against 'reckless escalation' after attack on rebel stronghold
The Trump administration on Tuesday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against using chemical weapons on his citizens, hours after the regime's ally, Russia, struck Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold.
"The United States is closely monitoring the situation in Idlib province, Syria, where millions of innocent civilians are under threat of an imminent Assad regime attack, backed by Russia and Iran," the White House said in a statement. "President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
"Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately," the statement continued.
The statement added that the United States will work with its allies "to find a lasting diplomatic solution to resolve the hostilities in Syria" through the United Nations Security Council Resolution.
Russian planes struck the northwestern province with roughly 30 airstrikes earlier Tuesday. The strikes were accompanied with Assad regime artillery, killing at least 17 civilians, including five children, The Wall Street Journal reported.
That strike came despite President Trump calling on the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, to not attack the town.
Trump on Monday on Twitter had warned Assad that he "must not recklessly attack Idlib Province," and that Russia and Iran "would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don't let that happen!"
The administration has said in the past it would only interfere in Idlib if the regime used chemical weapons on its citizens.
Though the Assad regime has largely won the country's more than seven-year civil war - with a trilateral cease-fire deal made last year between Syria, Russia and Iran - the regime and Russia routinely strike Idlib.
Assad's government has already retaken most of the southern provinces and the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, with Idlib likely the last big fight.
The United Nations and other countries have warned that a large-scale military attack on the area could lead to a humanitarian disaster much like the fall of Aleppo, which had a smaller population than Idlib.
The Pentagon has also weighed in, as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said Tuesday that he was afraid a "humanitarian catastrophe" could happen in Idlib.
"We don't see any way that significant military operations are going to be beneficial to the people of Syria," Dunford told reporters traveling with him.
Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, warned that Syrian armed forces were readying to act in Idlib.
"Unconditionally, you have to deal with the problem," Russian agency Interfax reported him as saying.