Turkey’s Erdogan hopes Tehran summit can avert Idlib offensive

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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran are due to meet on Friday in Iran. They’re expected to discuss northwestern Syria’s Idlib where the regime is reported to be planning an imminent offensive against remaining opposition and rebel-held areas.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the 96th anniversary of Victory Day at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey on August 30, 2018.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the 96th anniversary of Victory Day at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey on August 30, 2018. (Umit Bektas /Reuters)

Turkey hopes a summit with Iranian and Russian leaders in Tehran on Friday will avert an expected Syrian regime offensive on the opposition and rebel-held Idlib enclave and prevent a new influx of refugees to Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying.

Russia, an ally of Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, resumed air strikes against rebels in Idlib on Tuesday following weeks of bombardment and shelling by pro-regime forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive against the rebels’ last major enclave.

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran are due to meet on Friday in Iran and are expected to discuss the situation in northwestern Syria. Ankara, which backs some opposition groups, has said an offensive on Idlib would be disastrous. Turkey is already sheltering 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and is concerned at another influx.

“God willing we will take the situation to a positive point at Tehran summit and we will be able to hinder the [Syrian] regime’s extremism in the region,” Erdogan said.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for an end to the bombing of Idlib, where millions of civilians also live.

“If the problem here is the radical/terrorist groups, a common strategy needs to be adopted. Joint work can be done to eliminate these groups but the solution is definitely not to bomb Idlib in its entirety,” Cavusoglu told a press conference.

Turkey told Russia that these attacks were wrong, particularly before the Tehran summit, Cavusoglu  added.

Russia has described Idlib as a “nest of terrorists” and a “festering abscess” that must be resolved. A Syrian war monitor said Russian air strikes on the province had resumed on Tuesday after a pause of several weeks. Russia on Wednesday confirmed the strikes.

Erdogan earlier warned about the potential influx of refugees from Idlib to Turkey in the case of a regime offensive.

“In a situation like this, where will the fleeing people go to? A large proportion of these people will first seek refuge in Turkey,” he was quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s defence ministry said Turkish and Russian officials had met in Ankara to hold five days of meetings on developments in Syria. It said joint efforts would continue.

Russia’s ambassador to Ankara was later cited by broadcaster NTV as saying Turkey and Russia were in contact regarding the latest developments in northern Syria.

“The summit that will be held in Iran on Friday is a great opportunity for a solution in Syria,” ambassador Aleksei Erkhov was quoted as saying.

Road map in Manbij

Erdogan also said a road map for the northern Syrian city of Manbij endorsed by Ankara and Washington in June was not progressing well.

As part of the road map, Turkish and US forces are now carrying out patrols in Manbij to clear the area of YPG militants, which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation because of its links to the PKK which Turkey, the US and EU have listed as a terrorist organisation.

“We are not at an ideal point [on Manbij]. Unfortunately the agreement made is not going forward in the same direction as the initial discussions,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.

In a meeting on Tuesday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, discussed the developments in Syria.

Later on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by phone to his US counterpart, Mike Pompeo, to discuss developments in Idlib and Manbij, as well as bilateral ties, a diplomatic source said.

Both diplomats agreed that an Assad offensive in Idlib would be “an unacceptable, reckless escalation,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Source: Reuters
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