By – Associated Press – Friday, August 24, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) – ’s Foreign Minister on Friday warned against a possible offensive on the last remaining stronghold of opposition against President Bashar Assad, while indicated that it’s losing its patience with the rebels.

, who was in for talks with Russian counterpart , said that and should work to separate opposition groups from “terrorists” in the northwestern province of Idlib. He warned against a government offensive there, saying that it will cause a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“Our goal is to alleviate the concerns of our Russian counterparts and get rid of the terrorists in that area,” he told a briefing in . “We can work together but we could be putting civilian lives at risk while eradicating those radical groups.

, which has been a key backer of Assad, launched its operation in Syria in 2015, ultimately helping to turn the tide of the war in Assad’s favor.

, which supports some of the opposition groups along its border with Syria, has mediated cease-fire deals in several areas in Syria, including Idlib. and Iran, who back Assad, have also mediated cease-fires of their own. In most such cases, opposition groups on the verge of surrender gave up their fight and were evacuated to remaining areas outside government control, namely Idlib.

Taking Idlib by force would be a difficult challenge for Assad’s forces. As talk of a new government offensive swirled earlier this week, the leader of Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate that is based in the province, vowed to fight on there. Abu Mohammed al-Golani said on Wednesday that state-sponsored surrenders of rebel groups won’t happen in Idlib like they did elsewhere, because they would be considered “treason” by his al-Qaida-linked fighters.

’s on Friday indicated that was losing patience with the Idlib militants, whom the Kremlin has accused of targeting government positions as well as ’s Syria military base from there.

said on Friday that when , Iran and originally negotiated the cease-fire zones, did not expect militants to be “using it as a human shield” from which they could attack the .

acknowledged that the situation in Idlib is “complex” and called for the separation of militants from legitimate opposition groups. He said will stay on in to join a meeting later on Friday with top Russian and Turkish defense and intelligence officials to discuss the situation in Idlib.

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