France warns of new Syria humanitarian disaster
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'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."
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'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's forces -- allegations Assad and Russia flatly denied.
Le Drian said he hoped Saturday'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'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.
On Saturday, the US, France and Britain on Saturday launched a new push at the UN for a ceasefire.
In a draft text seen 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.