French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Thursday that there was a danger of a "humanitarian deflagration" in Idlib, Syria's last major rebel stronghold, as the Syrian regime is believed to be preparing a military offensive in the province.
"The regime of Bashar al-Assad wants to take Idlib militarily, and we're warning everyone involved of the risks of humanitarian deflagration that could result," Le Drian said during a working visit to Athens.
He described the enclave, which is held by a complex array of anti-regime fighters, many of whom have been blacklisted as "terrorists" by world power, as a "ticking time bomb, both in humanitarian and security terms."
As well as civilians and refugees, a number of "armed groups, terrorist groups" are concentrated in Idlib, he said.
Asked about the hypothesis that the Syrian regime could use chemical weapons in any offensive against Idlib, Le Drian stressed France's determination "not to accept any derogation from chemical non-proliferation".
"There are red lines. They were crossed a first time, and the French response was right on the nail. If they're crossed again, then the response will be the same," the French foreign minister said following talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.
In April, the United States, France and Britain launched airstrikes on Syrian targets in response to a chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma that left scores dead.
Fearing an imminent assault by regime forces, hundreds of civilians began fleeing Idlib province on Thursday, a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Rassan Rouhani are scheduled to meet for a tripartite summit seeking an end to the Syrian conflict.
Russia said Thursday it would continue to kill "terrorists" in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria to bring back peace.
"We have killed, we are killing and we will kill terrorists... whether that be in Aleppo, Idlib or other parts of Syria. Peace must return to Syria," said Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in comments reported by Russian agencies.
"This is a question of our security," she added.