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US Special Envoy to Syria

 


A nearly decade-long armed conflict in Syria is drawing to a close, with Idlib province in the northwest of the country being the last major bastion held by militant Islamist rebels. Fighting has intensified in recent weeks after Turkey, a NATO member, intervened in the region to slow the progress of Bashar al-Assad.

The United States would respond with unspecified measures and sanctions if Russia or Syria violate the recently agreed ceasefire at Idlib, James Franklin Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for the Syria.

The envoy did not say whether action would be taken if Turkey is the party that breaks the ceasefire agreement.

He did not rule out helping Turkey to Idlib as part of NATO, including the provision of missile defense systems.

"We are looking at what NATO can do, all the options on the table," said Jeffrey when asked if the United States is considering providing the Patriot systems.

He said, however, that the United States does not plan to deploy ground troops, in accordance with plans to phase out its military presence in Syria and other hot spots, but will consider if they could provide aerial assistance.

Last week, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a ceasefire in Idlib, where Turkish forces and Syrian militias supported by Turkey exchanged fire with the Syrian army. The fighting left around 60 soldiers dead, including 33 in a single air strike on February 27. Russia, Syria's key military ally, said Turkish troops were attacked by Syrian forces while operating alongside jihadist fighters and accused Turkey of helping terrorists .

Idlib, which shares a border with Turkey, is the last stronghold held by the country's rebels; the self-proclaimed autonomous region of the Kurds, Rojava, is in talks with Damascus. Syrian troops have been conducting an offensive in Idlib since December to clean up the area of ​​radical militant factions, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a branch of Al-Qaeda.

Erdogan threatened Monday to take unilateral action in Idlib if the ceasefire agreement is not respected. The agreement, in effect since last Friday, provides for a 12-kilometer-wide safety corridor along the crucial M4 highway and joint Russian-Turkish patrols in this area.



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