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The Latest: UN official: Powers cite need for peace in Idlib

In this Tuesday Sept. 11, 2018 photo, Turkey-trained Syrian opposition fighters of the 'National Army' group formally known as Free Syrian Army, train in a camp in the Turkish-controlled northwestern city of Azaz, Syria. Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, have been massing troops for weeks in preparation for an attack on Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in the country. The U.N. has warned that a battle will spark a humanitarian catastrophe. (Ugur Can/DHA via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

A top U.N. humanitarian aid official for Syria says the United States, Russia and other powers have expressed a “common agreement” on the need for a peaceful way forward for the rebel-held province of Idlib.

OCHA regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis echoed concerns among many about possible bloodshed in a widely expected offensive by Syrian government forces and their Russian and Iranian allies upon a region largely controlled by an al-Qaida affiliate.

Speaking to reporters after a U.N.-backed humanitarian task force meeting Thursday chaired by the U.S. and Russia, Moumtzis said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners want to be ready for up to 900,000 people who could flee Idlib.

“We hope it won’t happen … we hope it will not be needed.”

He quoted an unspecified Russian official in the closed-door meeting as saying that “every effort” was being made to find a peaceful way out of the crisis.

Officials estimate that nearly 3 million civilians are in Idlib.

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2:40

The United Nations says over 30,000 people have been displaced in nearly two weeks of escalation in attacks on Syria’s last rebel bastion in the country’s northwest.

The escalation in aerial bombing and shelling of the rebel areas in Idlib and northern Hama have set off alarm bells. The U.N. has warned against a threatened government offensive, which it said could displace as many as 800,000, of which only 100,000 may flee to government-controlled areas, according to the U.N.

Idlib and surrounding areas are home to nearly 3 million people, half of them already displaced by violence in different parts of Syria.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement late Wednesday that 38,300 were displaced by the violence since Sept. 1, most of them heading toward the Turkish-Syrian borders to already overcrowded displaced persons camps.

Some 4,500 — or 11 percent — returned home spontaneously in the last two days as the violence decreased.

The U.N. said aid groups have put in place an emergency plan for the expected large wave of displacement

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12 p.m.

Syrian activists are reporting that new military reinforcements have arrived to beef up Turkish observation points inside Syria’s last rebel bastion Idlib as a Syrian government offensive looms over the crowded enclave.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday a Turkish convoy entered from Kfar Lusin crossing in northern Idlib, heading to some of the 12 Turkish observations points that ring Idlib. A video shot by activists of the monitoring group Central Station for Turkish Intervention showed armored and gun-mounted vehicles and tanks driving through an Idlib road.

The reinforcements come during a lull in government and Russian bombings of rebel locations on Idlib’s southern edge.

Turkey has appealed for a cease-fire in Idlib, which straddles its borders and is home to more than 3 million people.

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