President Donald Trump on Dec. 26 warned Russia, Syria, and Iran against killing innocent civilians in Syria’s Idlib Province, which has seen intensifying levels of bombardment and is the last major rebel pocket.
On Dec. 1, Syrian government forces launched a renewed effort to take the province, which is dominated by militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist group and is also home to 3 million civilians. There is also a growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border, the United Nations has previously warned.
“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province,” Trump wrote in a Dec. 26 Twitter post. “Don’t do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage.”
In September, leaders of Turkey, Russia, and Iran agreed to “de-escalate” conflict in the region after a months-long campaign that forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee. But as talks over Syria’s peace settlement have stalled, tensions have risen.
Earlier in the week, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Russia will work to stop attacks in the region after talks with a Turkish delegation in Moscow. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture Idlib.
Trump had previously warned the three countries in June about bombing the region. He described the bombings at the time as “butchery.”
“Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians,” Trump wrote in a June 2 Twitter post.
“The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!”
More than 200,000 men, women, and children have fled their homes in northwest Syria in recent weeks, the Syrian Response Coordination Group stated on Dec. 25.
The Trump administration, in the meantime, has been ramping up its pressure on Iran’s Islamic regime, with a growing number of sanctions imposed on the country in recent times.
China, meanwhile, announced on Dec. 26 that it would hold joint naval drills with Iran and Russia in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman starting on Dec. 27.
China’s defense ministry spokesman, Wu Qian, said they would send a guided-missile destroyer dubbed Xining to the drills, which are slated to last until Jan. 30. The drills are meant to strengthen cooperation between the three countries’ navies, Wu told reporters at a monthly news briefing, adding that it was a “normal military exchange” between them.
Wu said it was “not necessarily connected with the regional situation,” without elaborating.
The Gulf of Oman is a particularly sensitive waterway as it connects to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes, which in turn connects to the Gulf.
Tensions between Iran and the United States, along with its allies, including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of a deal in 2018 between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Washington proposed a U.S.-led naval mission after several attacks in May and June on international merchant vessels, including attacks against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran was responsible.
On Dec. 19, the United States announced additional sanctions on Iran, this time targeting two judges from the Islamic regime’s Revolutionary Court. Pompeo announced the sanctions while denouncing the country’s human rights abuses, during a Dec. 19 speech at the State Department.
Pompeo, in his speech, criticized the regime for its killing of protesters in November. At least 200,000 people took part in the mass demonstrations, and about 7,000 were arrested, marking possibly the largest anti-government demonstrations in the regime’s 40-year history.
Reuters contributed to this report