New disaster looms in Syria: France

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Palestinian protesters chant slogans and wave the flags of Palestine, Syria and Iran during a demonstration against strikes carried out by the United States, Britain and France against Syria's regime, in Gaza City on April 14, 2018.

PARIS - French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Sunday that a new humanitarian disaster was looming in Syria, in the rebel-held region of Idlib, seen as the next possible target of the regime&39;s fightback.

In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche weekly a day after the US, Britain and France carried out strikes in Syria, Le Drian said: "There are 2 million people in Idlib now, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians evacuated from rebel towns recaptured by the regime."

"There is a risk of a new humanitarian disaster."

READ: US, France, Britain launch strikes on Syria

Held by an array of jihadists and rebels, Idlib province is the last in Syria largely beyond government control.

Speaking in Damascus this week, a senior Iranian official said he hoped Idlib would be the next area to be "liberated" by Iran ally President Bashar al-Assad, after the Syrian army&39;s recapture of the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus with Russian backing.

The scorched-earth battle for Eastern Ghouta wound up shortly after a suspected chemical attack killed over 40 people and which the West blamed on Assad&39;s forces - allegations Assad and Russia flatly denied.

Le Drian said he hoped Saturday&39;s strikes, aimed at punishing the regime over its alleged use of toxic gas, would convince Russia to pressure Assad into negotiations on ending the seven-year war.

 

 

"We hope that Russia understands...we must combine our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that favours an end to the crisis.

"France is ready to work towards this. Except that currently, the one blocking the process is Bashar al-Assad himself. It&39;s up to Russia to put pressure on him," he said.

Le Drian said the first step would be "to begin with a ceasefire which is really respected this time."

He was referring to a 30-day ceasefire called by the UN in February to facilitate the delivery of aid and medical evacuations, which was never really implemented.

READ: Western strikes on Syria: what will Russia do?

On Saturday, the US, France and Britain on Saturday launched a new push at the UN for a ceasefire.

In a draft text seen by AFP they also called for a mechanism to probe chemical attacks - and also ascribe blame for them - and demanded that Syria engage in stalled UN-led peace talks.