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Iran FM meets Assad as Syria showdown looms

Iran’s foreign minister holds talks with officials in Syria as Syrian forces and their allies prepare for an assault on the last opposition stronghold in the country.

Syria’s foreign ministry and Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency say Mohammad Javad Zarif is received by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad upon his arrival in Damascus, and was to meet later with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Iran has lent crucial military and economic support to Assad throughout the seven-year civil war and the discussions are expected to focus on the looming battle for Idlib.

Assad has vowed to defeat the opposition in its last refuge in the northwestern province if the rebels do not surrender to government rule.

Idlib and the surrounding area is home to some 3 million people — nearly half of them already displaced more than once by the civil war — choosing to live in opposition areas. UN officials believe an offensive on Idlib would trigger a wave of displacement that could uproot an estimated 800,000 people and discourage refugees from returning home.

Thousands of government troops and allied fighters have been massing in areas surrounding the province.

— AP

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