Syrian children are equipped with PAPER CUP gas masks while Assad prepares for the bloodiest battle to date & # 039;

The terrified Syrians are making impromptu gas masks in paper cups amid fears that dictator Bashar al-Assad will launch chemical attacks during an attempt to seize the remaining rebel stronghold of the country.

The terrified Syrians are making impromptu gas masks in paper cups amid fears that dictator Bashar al-Assad will launch chemical attacks during an attempt to seize the country's remaining rebel stronghold.

The images show party cups filled with cotton and charcoal placed on a child's face with a plastic bag tightened around his head in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib.

The desperate tactic comes when the UN warned that a regime attack in the region of nearly three million could unleash one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the seven-year war in Syria, displace 800,000 people and result in a "bloodbath" "

Assad has concentrated his army and allied forces on the front in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombing of rebels there, in a prelude to a possible assault.

A US official warned that there is "much evidence" that Syrian government forces are preparing chemical weapons in the region.

The terrified Syrians are making impromptu gas masks in paper cups amid fears that dictator Bashar al-Assad will launch chemical attacks during an attempt to seize the remaining rebel stronghold of the country.

The terrified Syrians are making impromptu gas masks in paper cups amid fears that dictator Bashar al-Assad will launch chemical attacks during an attempt to seize the remaining rebel stronghold of the country.

The images show colorful party cups filled with cotton and charcoal that fit the face of a child with a plastic bag tightened around his head in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib.

The images show colorful party cups filled with cotton and charcoal that fit the face of a child with a plastic bag tightened around his head in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib.

The images show colorful party cups filled with cotton and charcoal that fit the face of a child with a plastic bag tightened around his head in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib.

The desperate tactic comes when the UN warned that a regime attack in the region of nearly three million could unleash one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the seven-year war in Syria, displace 800,000 people and result in a "bloodbath" "

The desperate tactic comes when the UN warned that a regime attack in the region of nearly three million could unleash one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the seven-year war in Syria, displace 800,000 people and result in a "bloodbath" "

The desperate tactic comes when the UN warned that a regime attack in the region of nearly three million could unleash one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the seven-year war in Syria, displace 800,000 people and result in a "bloodbath" "

Civilians in Syria's last great bastion of active opposition to the Assad government are preparing food and digging shelters before an expected military offensive.

They also put their faith in neighboring Turkish diplomacy to avoid military action.

"We are preparing as little as we can: small primitive masks that we can put in our children's mouths in case they touch us with chemicals," Shahad said at age 20 from his village south of the city of Idlib, where he shares a home with his pregnant wife, three children and around another 15 people.

His brother, 35-year-old construction worker Ahmed Abdulkarim al-Shahad, shows the cavernous space under a cool courtyard covered in vines that the family has been digging and protecting from bombing since 2012.

"The military preparations, as we have seen, are in full swing … We, as civilians, have begun to prepare the caves," he said, showing glass bottles of pickled vegetables placed on the damp walls of the cave.

About three million people live in the rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria, which comprises most of the province of Idlib and small adjacent parts of the provinces of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

  Civilians in Syria's last great bastion of active opposition to the Assad government are preparing food and digging shelters before an expected military offensive

  Civilians in Syria's last great bastion of active opposition to the Assad government are preparing food and digging shelters before an expected military offensive

Civilians in Syria's last great bastion of active opposition to the Assad government are preparing food and digging shelters before an expected military offensive

A displaced Syrian boy wounded by the bombings is in a tent in Kafr Lusin, near the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa with Turkey in the northern part of the Syrian province of Idlib, controlled by the rebels.

A displaced Syrian boy wounded by the bombings is in a tent in Kafr Lusin, near the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa with Turkey in the northern part of the Syrian province of Idlib, controlled by the rebels.

A displaced Syrian boy wounded by the bombings is in a tent in Kafr Lusin, near the border crossing of Bab al-Hawa with Turkey in the northern part of the Syrian province of Idlib, controlled by the rebels.

About half of them fled the fighting or were transferred there by the government under surrender agreements from other parts of Syria, as Assad has regained ground from the rebels.

The new US adviser to Syria, Jim Jeffrey, said on Thursday that there was "evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."

"I am very sure that we have very, very good reasons to make these warnings," he said.

"Any offensive is objectionable to us as a reckless escalation, there is ample evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."

The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond "quickly and vigorously" if government forces used chemical weapons in the long-awaited offensive.

Jeffrey said an attack by Russian and Syrian forces, and the use of chemical weapons, would force large refugee flows into southeastern Turkey or areas in Syria under Turkish control.

In April last year, a Syrian government fighter jet dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, killing more than 80 civilians, according to the UN Commission of Inquiry. He also said that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons, including chlorine, more than two dozen times during the war.

Damascus and its ally Russia deny these charges and say they do not participate in chemical warfare. The residents of Idlib are afraid and Washington has warned Assad against the use of chemical weapons in any offensive, promising an answer if he does.

Russia, ally of Assad, resumed air strikes against insurgents in Idlib on Tuesday after weeks of bombing and shelling of pro-Syrian government forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive against the last major rebel enclave.

But Turkey has said it hopes a summit with Iranian and Russian leaders in Tehran on Friday will prevent an offensive.

And some people with whom Reuters spoke in Idlib suspect that an offensive can be avoided.

Assad has concentrated his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombing (pictured) of the rebels there, in a prelude to a possible assault.

Assad has concentrated his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombing (pictured) of the rebels there, in a prelude to a possible assault.

Assad has concentrated his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombing (pictured) of the rebels there, in a prelude to a possible assault.

"I do not think there is an attack on Idlib, it's all a media war," said 50-year-old construction worker Jaafar Abu Ahmad, from a rural area near the city of Ma'arat al-Nuaman. "The great world powers have previously agreed and divided the land."

However, seven years of raw war has taught Ahmad to be prepared. His family is currently expanding a wet dugout that they have been digging and protecting themselves from attacks for the past five years, filling it with food.

"We have been digging in the ground for two months without stopping, me, my wife and my children," he said. & # 39; This cave is now our protection. We cleaned it recently after being neglected for a long time. "

With bombing, air strikes and rhetoric about an imminent offensive attack, several local councils in Idlib have come together and sought protection from Turkey.

"For us in the liberated areas, our only guarantor in the negotiations are our Turkish brothers," said Ahmad Shtaam al-Rashu, the local chief of the village of Ma & # 39; shureen, 48 years old.

Turkey has erected observation posts along the front line between the rebels and government forces, and Rashu said that Turkey had told them that this was a sign of their commitment to protect the Idlib population.

Idlib is often described as the "last refuge" for rebels and internally displaced civilians, and any offensive attack threatens new displacements and human misery.

"As for escaping to the (Turkish) border, I do not think we're going to move out of our houses, the bombing will get us in. There is no place after Idlib," Ahmed al-Shahad said.

"We will fight until the last man, we no longer have any option."

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