Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says the country’s government troops will “go all the way” in the militant-held northwestern province of Idlib, stressing that Damascus’s main targets are members of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
The top Syrian diplomat made the remarks in a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Thursday, following a meeting within the framework of Syrian-Russian intergovernmental commissions.
He added that the Arab country was in the “last step” to resolve the years-long crisis and liberate all its territories from the clutches of terrorists “and that’s why the United States, Britain and France want to attack Idlib with the aim of obstructing the political settlement process and helping al-Nusra group.”
Russia, a close ally of Syria, became involved in anti-terror operations in the militancy-infested country in September 2015 upon a formal request from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“As we were partners in the fight against terrorism, we want to be partners in the reconstruction process,” Muallem said. “Our people highly appreciate the role of the Russian Federation and President Vladimir Putin in combating terrorism in Syria.”
He further said that Syria would not use chemical weapons in any operation and that it did not have such weapons, adding that Damascus would try its best to “avoid possible civilian casualties and generally avoid bloodshed” in an upcoming full-scale offensive against terrorists in Idlib.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Syrian minister said that the so-called White Helmets aid group had kidnapped 44 children in Idlib to use them in a staged chemical attack.
“Behind the creation of the pseudo-organization the White Helmets are the British special services. They sponsor them, they lead them. They were behind the organization of those fabricated scenarios for the use of chemical weapons and now they are preparing such a development of the situation with the use of chemical weapons in Idlib,” Muallem said.
Syria surrendered its stockpile of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United States and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry. It has also consistently denied using chemical weapons over the course of the foreign-backed militancy, which broke out in the country in 2011.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has already said the Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group “is close to committing a very serious provocation in Idlib using chemical weapons.”
At the weekend, Russia repeatedly warned that Syrian-based terrorists were planning the attack in the militant-held province, which is home to nearly three million people.
Lavrov, for his part, denounced as “unacceptable” the use of the de-escalation zone in Idlib by Nusra Front terrorists to attack Syrian and Russian forces.
"It is unacceptable that the terrorists, who are entrenched there, primarily from the Nusra Front, are trying to use this de-escalation zone to prepare attacks on the positions of the Syrian army and even for attempts to attack the Russian military base in Hmeimim air base using aerial drones,” he said.
He also touched on the issue of a purported US plan to “obstruct” the upcoming operation by the Syrian army in Idlib, calling the move “another provocation by the West.”
Regarding the reconstructing of the war-torn Arab country and the return of refugees, Lavrov said that his country was “ready to increase its contribution to these tasks.”
The United States has warned it would respond to a chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces with retaliatory strikes, stressing that the attacks would be stronger than those conducted by American, British and French forces back in April.
On April 14, the US, Britain and France carried out a string of airstrikes against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack against the city of Douma, located about 10 kilometers northeast of the capital Damascus. The strike came one week after an alleged gas attack on the city.
Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack takes place.