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US offers Turkey aid, threatens pressure over Syria violence

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Washington (AFP)

The United States on Wednesday offered help to Turkey and threatened sanctions to press Syria and its ally Russia to halt a major new offensive.

James Jeffrey, the US pointman on Syria, said Washington was "very, very worried" about the "extremely dangerous conflict" that has flared up in the northwestern Idlib region.

"Certainly, we are moving forward on additional sanctions," Jeffrey told reporters. He did not name the targets but suggested they would be in Syria.

Jeffrey said that US President Donald Trump, under an executive order issued last year, has authority to "go after people who are not supporting the political process and, particularly, not supporting the ceasefire."

"So we're looking at what we can do about that. And we're asking the Turks what help they need," he said.

Trump last year briefly imposed sanctions on senior Turkish officials after Ankara sent troops into northern Syria to battle US-allied Kurds.

Turkey had seized on Trump's withdrawal of US forces from the area and afterwards negotiated an accord on a buffer zone in Idlib with Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, has since consolidated its position as the main anti-regime faction on the ground, at the expense of Turkish-backed rebel forces.

But Jeffrey doubted Russia's justification that it had come under growing fire from the militants, who are not part of the ceasefire.

"We have seen only intermittent and not very strong or significant military actions on their part against the Russians," Jeffrey said.

"The Russians use this as an excuse, basically," he said, "to launch these massive attacks against the civilians."

Jeffrey said the immediate solution should be a "permanent ceasefire" before talks on "all issues" including the status of the militants.

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