Russia Ignores American Demand to Stop 'Unjustifiable Attacks' in Syria's Idlib

Russia's foreign minister backed the ongoing offensive against the rebel-held Idlib region of Syria, defying calls from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to end the attack and mitigate the humanitarian crisis developing there.

Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Moscow is fully behind President Bashar al-Assad's offensive into the north-western province of Syria, which is the only major part of the country still held by forces opposing the regime in Damascus.

Lavrov claimed the Syrian armed forces were responding to "radicals entrenched in Idlib" that had repeatedly violated a Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreed earlier this month, Russia's Tass state news agency reported.

He said militants were attacking civilian targets and Syrian military positions, and launching unsuccessful drone attacks against the Khmeimim Air Base, which has become the hub for Russia's intervention in Syria's ruinous civil war.

"Naturally, these sorts of armed provocations, which took dozens of lives and injured hundreds of Syrian servicemen and civilians in this month alone, cannot be left without a response," Lavrov continued. "We support the actions of the Syrian army to quash the sources of these provocations in the Idlib zone."

Assad's current offensive into Idlib began in December, with waves of air and artillery strikes followed by infantry and armored incursions.

His troops have thus far captured 46 settlements across around 123 square miles of territory, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Idlib is largely controlled by a variety of jihadist factions, with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham the most powerful. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hiding in Idlib close to the Turkish border before being tracked down and killed by American special forces last year.

Syrian forces—and their Russian and Iranian backers—have been accused of war crimes in Idlib as Assad pursues his goal of a reunified Syria under his control. Syrian and Russian warplanes and artillery barrages have reportedly killed children, targeted medical personnel, and bombed civilian vehicles on major roads.

Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have fled their homes to escape the worsening violence over the past two months, according to the United Nations.

In a statement issued Monday, Pompeo accused Assad's forces and their allies of "conducting indiscriminate aerial bombardment and ground attacks that have trapped thousands of civilians under bombardment."

Pompeo highlighted this strategy being used in the city Maarat al-Numan in southern Idlib, which regime forces now claim to have captured.

The secretary of state said the "destabilizing actions of Russia, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime are directly preventing the establishment of a ceasefire in northern Syria" as requested by the United Nations.

The U.S., Pompeo said, "condemns these unjustifiable attacks against the people of northwest Syria" and calls for "an immediate cease-fire and full access to the affected areas by humanitarian organizations to alleviate the suffering of the hundreds of thousands that have fled the incessant bombing."

Syria, Idlib, offensive, Mike Pompeo, Sergei Lavrov
Smoke billows following reported bombardment by Syrian regime forces on the town of Kafr Ruma on the outskirts of Maaret al-Numan, in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on January 27, 2020. OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images/Getty