US to Send Syria Envoy to Israel for Idlib #SyriaWar
State Department says visit is to reassure Jerusalem that Israel’s security will be maintained, as CNN reports officials have drawn up list of chemical weapons targets in Syria.
The State Department announced late Friday that two envoys for Syria will visit Israel, Jordan and Turkey as the Syrian government and its opponents prepare for a final, bloody showdown over Idlib.
The Special Representative for Syria Engagement, Ambassador James Jeffrey and Special Envoy for Syria, Joel Rayburn, will meet with senior officials to discuss “maintaining Israel’s security while countering Iran’s destabilizing activity throughout the region,” the State Department announced.
Jeffrey, on his first overseas trip in the role, will also reassure Israeli officials that the US will respond to any chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime.
CNN reported Friday that US military and intelligence experts have made a list of Syrian chemical weapons facilities that could be hit if US President Donald Trump orders airstrikes.
In Jordan and Turkey the two envoys are expected to tell officials that the US continues to believe a regime offensive in Idlib will escalate the crisis in Syria and the region, as well as offer praise and thanks for the two countries’ work to help to alleviate the human suffering caused by the war.
The envoys will also address what the State Department calls Russia’s “specious allegations” of plans by the international community to stage a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
On Friday the Pentagon hit back at the Russian claim.
“That Russia is seeking to plant false lies about chemical weapons use suggests that Moscow is seeking to deflect from its own culpability when these heinous weapons are used,” said spokesman Sean Robertson, according to CNN. “Russia’s efforts to obscure the truth only underscore its years-long role in abetting the murder and mayhem conducted by the Assad regime.”
Idlib, the Syrian opposition’s only remaining stronghold in the country and now a refuge for over a million displaced Syrians, is likely to be the last major theater of battle after seven years of brutal civil war.
Syrian dictator President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia, has largely taken back control over territories once held by opposition forces and the Islamic State terrorist organization, and is expected to soon launch a renewed offensive against the remaining rebel groups that are holed up in the area of Idlib in the country’s northwest.
Once Assad conquers that territory, the war, which began in 2011, will effectively come to an end. In preparation for this, a number of countries have begun negotiations for an agreement that would formally end the conflict, which is estimated to have killed approximately half a million people and displaced millions more.
The UN and aid workers are bracing for disaster, warning that up to 800,000 people are in danger of renewed displacement if a government offensive gets underway. A massive military buildup in nearby areas suggests an assault — at least to regain parts of the province — may be imminent.
Turkey, which backs the rebels in Idlib, has warned against a military solution and is reportedly negotiating with Russia in an effort to avoid a full-scale offensive.
Concern is mounting meanwhile over the potential use of chemical weapons, and the Russian navy is building up its presence in the Mediterranean Sea.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Israel will continue to act in Syria as it deems necessary for its national defense, without consideration for the international agreements that would formally end the brutal eight-year civil war in the country.
“We see different gatherings in a variety of places — in Ankara, in Tehran, in Geneva, in other places — talking about redesigning Syria after the battle in Idlib,” Liberman said.
“The only thing that concerns us is the security interests of the State of Israel. Any other understandings or agreements that are reached in different places are irrelevant to us, and we will strictly enforce all previous agreements and Israel’s security interests,” he said, referring to the 1974 ceasefire accord between Israel and Syria, which places severe restrictions on the two countries’ military activities along the border.