The Iranian regime has put on a high-profile display of backing for its Syrian ally, not only defending the Assad regime’s chemical attacks but supporting more military operations to seize territory.

The assurances came in a visit to Damascus by the Supreme Leader’s top aide, Ali Akbar Velayati, which included a meeting and photo opportunity with Bashar al-Assad.

Velayati visited East Ghouta, the area near Damascus overrun by pro-Assad units after intensive Russian and regime bombing and last Saturday’s chemical assault by Assad’s forces.

Rather than speak about the use of chemical weapons, Velayati portrayed Iran’s support for the Assad regime to reoccupy Idlib Province in northwest Syria, held by the opposition since spring 2015. He said he hoped it will be “liberated soon”.

The Iranian official also repeated the endorsement of Assad regime operations against territory held by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeast Syria: “East of the Euphrates is also a very important area. We hope big steps would be taken in order to liberate this area and expel the occupying Americans.”

The remarks are a contrast to the line taken by the Assad regime’s other key ally, Russia. While Moscow has tried to divert attention from the regime’s responsibility for Saturday’s use of cholorine and a stronger agent, killing up to 85 people and injuring hundreds, it has not pointed to further operations — including widespread conventional bombing — to regain Idlib Province.

Such an operation would risk conflict with Turkey, which has moved into part of northwest Syria alongside rebel forces and is establishing a ring of observation posts around Idlib, western Aleppo, and northern Hama Provinces.

Turkey and Russia struck a de facto deal from summer 2016 where Ankara accepted the Russian siege and bombing that enabled the Assad regime’s takeover of eastern Aleppo city, and Moscow assented to Turkey’s military operations in the northwest.