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#31 A final Syrian showdown looms. Millions of lives are at risk. Here are the stakes.

With Syria’s rebels nearing defeat after seven years at war, President Bashar al-Assad’s army says it is turning its firepower against their final stronghold. The target, Idlib province, is largely controlled by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group.

Caught in the middle are millions of civilians with nowhere left to run.

Public pronouncements by Syrian and Russian officials foreshadow a devastating attack if diplomacy and the pleas of aid groups for restraint are not heeded. On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described Idlib’s militants as “festering abscesses” that should be “liquidated.” A day later, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said his government’s forces would go “all the way.”

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Using unusually urgent language, the United Nations’ Syria envoy, Staffan di Mistura, warned Thursday that the people of Idlib province are facing the prospect of a “perfect storm.”

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