Turkey, Russia discuss reducing tension in Syria's Idlib

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 15, 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Syrian government of "seeking to sabotage" Ankara's relationship with Moscow through its latest offensive in the northwest of the war-torn country.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar discussed with his Russian counterpart the latest developments in Syria's northwestern Idlib province in a phone conversation, Turkey's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

Russian Federation is pushing Turkey to use its influence with the rebels to force HTS fighters to pull back from a buffer zone around the province's borders.

Russian Federation and Turkey are on opposing sides of the conflict, with Moscow strongly supporting Assad's militarily since 2015, while Ankara supported Syrian rebels in the war since it began in 2011.

Erdoğan voiced concern over ceasefire violations in the past two weeks by forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the Idlib de-escalation zone, Turkey's Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said on Twitter.

Russian and regime aircraft bombarded the area on Monday, while they also hit southern parts of the extremist stronghold, said the Britain-based war monitor.

He stressed that the Assad regime aimed to sabotage Turkish-Russian cooperation in Idlib and to harm the spirit of the Astana agreement, noting that rising tensions in the region would jeopardize the formation of a Constitutional Committee in Syria and the political process.

He said it was impossible to explain it as a counterterror effort given the number of casualties and damage to health services.

The UK, France, and Germany acknowledged that Idlib is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, but said that was no justification for the intense bombardment. The offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russian Federation, has uprooted more than 150,000 people, the biggest escalation in the war since last summer.

Pro-Assad forces have captured several towns in the south but have not made major territorial gains. They also launched ground operations against the southern flank of the rebel zone consisting of Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

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