The Latest: UN envoy suggests civilians leave Syria's Idlib

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The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

3 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria is proposing that civilians evacuate the rebel-held region of Idlib into government-held areas, warning that nearly 3 million people in the region could face a "perfect storm" and a "chilling" military escalation ahead.

Staffan de Mistura told reporters Thursday that about 10,000 al-Qaida-linked fighters and their families are located in the densely populated region, which is now home to 2.9 million people, many of them already displaced during the country's 7-1/2 year war.

De Mistura has held several rounds of negotiations with Syria's warring parties in recent years but has made little progress toward ending the conflict.

He said Thursday the evacuation proposal was "potentially possible," and that he could travel to the region himself to help monitor it.


1:40 p.m.

Russia has announced major military drills in the Mediterranean Sea amid growing tensions over a rebel-held enclave in Syria.

The Defense Ministry told Russian news agencies on Thursday that Russia will deploy 25 ships, including a missile cruiser, and 30 jets for the maneuvers in the first week of September. The military says the drills will focus on anti-air and anti-submarine defense.

It says Moscow has notified international organizations of the drills, which may make it dangerous for aircraft and ships to operate in the area.

The drills were announced after NATO reported a Russian naval buildup in the Mediterranean.

Russia has provided crucial military support for Syrian government forces, which are expected to mount an offensive in the northern Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.