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A Syrian rebel fighter in the Idlib province. Photo: Aaref Watad/AFP/Getty Images

With Syria's army preparing for a major offensive in Idlib province, the country's last opposition stronghold, the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey will gather in Tehran on Friday to discuss a path toward ending the seven-year civil war.

The big picture: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to strike a decisive blow in Idlib, but the three leaders meeting on Friday have clashing concerns and objectives. Meanwhile, the estimated 3 million civilians currently in the northwestern province —many of whom have already relocated from elsewhere due to the war — are in a precarious position.

  • We've seen crises like this before, in Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo. But what makes this different is that the people in the Idlib province have no where else to go. With the pro-regime coalition pushing on one side, and Turkey saying it won't take in more refugees on the other, civilians in the area would be trapped.
  • Chris Kozak, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who focuses on Syria, told Axios: "You have a very large population that is already on the edge, there's not a lot of capacity to deal with a new big wave of internal migration provoked by fighting."
  • The decision of what comes next ultimately comes down to Turkey, which has set up observation posts with the intention of protecting its border, Kozak says.
Where they stand
  • While Russia is Assad's staunch ally, it is also seeking to exploit strained ties between the U.S. and Turkey. It doesn't want to risk that advantage with a military offensive in Idlib that would infuriate Ankara
  • Syria and Iran, however, "strongly want to go in and launch an offensive operation to recapture the area," Kozak told Axios.
  • Turkey has forces in Idlib, and has said an offensive there would cross a "red line." At the end of the day, though, it may concede some parts of the province to the coalition in order to keep security over its border.
What they're saying
  • President Trump weighed in on Twitter: "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. ... Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!"
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said, per the Wall Street Journal: "We don’t see any way that significant military operations are going to be beneficial to the people of Syria. ...[I]f major operations take place, we can expect a humanitarian catastrophe, and we would all want to see that be avoided.”
  • U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said this week that if Assad and his allies "want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they cannot do it with chemical weapons. They can’t do it assaulting their people."
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, per Reuters: "A fairly large group of terrorists has settled [in Idlib]...We know that Syria’s armed forces are preparing to resolve this problem."

The bottom line: Kozak believes that unless the Assad regime deploys chemical weapons in Idlib, the U.S. ultimately won't get involved.

Go deeper

In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 10 highlights

Puerto Rico's Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (L) wins ahead of USA's Kendra Harrison in the women's 100m hurdles final during the Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 2, 2021. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

Day 10 of the Tokyo Olympic Games saw Puerto Rico bag its first-ever track gold medal when Jasmine Camacho-Quinn beat American world record holder Kendra Harrison to win the women’s 100-meter hurdles Monday.

The big picture: There was better news for Team USA in the basketball, where the women's national team beat France 93-82 — meaning the Americans are entering the medal round undefeated as they go for yet another gold, Axios' Ina Fried reports from Tokyo. France still advanced to the quarterfinals as well.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

IOC: Belarus sprinter who sought refuge in Tokyo "safe"

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus in 2019. Photo: Ivan Romano/Getty Images

Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought refuge in Tokyo, is in the care of Japanese authorities and the UN refugee agency is now involved in her case, an International Olympic Committee official told reporters Monday.

The latest: Officials in Poland and the Czech Republic have offered to help the 24-year-old sprinter, who refused national team orders to board a flight home after being taken to Tokyo's Haneda airport Sunday following her criticism of Belarusian coaches, per Reuters

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Team Italy crosses the finish line ahead of American Fred Kerley in the men's 100m final on day nine of the Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

🚨: IOC "looking into" American Raven Saunders' Olympic podium gesture

🏃🏾: Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs: Reconnecting with U.S. father "gave me the desire to win" Olympic 100m sprint race.

🥇High jumpers persuade Olympic officials to let them share gold

🏌️‍♂️: Golfer Xander Schauffele wins gold for U.S. by one shot

🤸🏿‍♀️: Simone Biles won't compete in Olympic floor finals, individual vault or uneven bars

🏳️‍⚧️: Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletesTrans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage