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The Kremlin's disinformation campaign is ramping up ahead of the planned Russian and Syrian government operation in Idlib, billed as the last major battle of the Syrian war.

Idlib province and adjacent rural areas form the largest piece of territory still held by Syria's beleaguered opposition fighters, worn down by a succession of regime victories in recent months.

"We want to come to an understanding with them" the Syrian FM said.

The talks led by Staffan de Mistura ended with little comment to reporters at the United Nations offices in Geneva, and offered a sideshow to concerns about a looming battle for the northern province - the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria after seven years of war which is home to three million civilians.

"I make a clear appeal to all parties directly and indirectly involved - and in particular the three guarantors of the de-escalation zone, namely Iran, Russia and Turkey: Spare no effort to find solutions that protect civilians".

Since 2015, Idlib has been home to a complex array of anti-regime forces: secular rebels, Islamists, Syrian jihadists with ties to Al-Qaeda - and their foreign counterparts.

Turkey is a leading opposition supporter which has troops in the country and has erected 12 observation posts around Idlib.

"To recapture eastern Ghouta in April, government forces launched numerous indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, which included the use of chemical weapons", it said.

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"We go wherever it's safe", said the man in his 30s.

Rebel militants, the Kremlin says, have already delivered the toxic substances, including chlorine, to the town of Jisr Al Shughour in Idlib.

The Russian defence ministry, citing Idlib residents, said film crews from several Middle Eastern TV channels - as well as "a regional branch of a leading USA news channel" - had arrived for the shoot in the city of Jisr Al Shughur in Idlib.

A further complicating factor for Turkish aid agencies is that many civilians themselves are now carrying arms for protection, making it harder to distinguish them from fighters.

She told the Council: "If Assad, Russia and Iran continue down the path they are on, the consequences will be dire".

Russian Federation and Iran insisted that a military offensive in Idlib would be a counter-terrorism operation and that measures would be taken to spare civilians. "That's something we're monitoring very closely", OCHA spokesman David Swanson said.

"Innocent people must not be sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorism", he wrote.

Russia's United Nations ambassador said "terrorists" can't be allowed to hold hundreds of thousands of people as "human shields" in Idlib where he said "tens of thousands" of fighters linked to al-Qaida, the Islamic State and other extremist groups are concentrated.


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