Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “curb” the Syrian regime in the Syrian rebel province of Idleb, amid intense diplomatic activity aimed at ending the fighting and a disastrous humanitarian situation.
The offensive led by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with the support of Moscow to retake Idleb, the last rebel stronghold in the northwest of the country, has seriously undermined the agreement between Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin who were cooperating closely since 2016 with a view to ending the conflict in Syria, where they nevertheless support opposing camps.
During a telephone interview with the master of the Kremlin, Recep Erdogan “stressed that the regime must be curbed in Idleb and that the humanitarian crisis must end,” said the Turkish presidency.
Recep Erdogan also pointed out that a solution to the explosive situation in Idleb goes through “the full implementation of the Sochi agreement” sponsored in 2018 by the two leaders to silence arms in the province but which vacillates since Several weeks.
“The two leaders have said they want to respect all agreements” between the two sides, added the Turkish presidency.
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Before this interview, Recep Erdogan discussed the situation in Idleb on the phone with French leaders Emmanuel Macron and German Angela Merkel, whom he called “concrete actions to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe”, according to the Turkish presidency.
On Thursday, the German chancellery announced that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron had expressed their “concern” over the “catastrophic humanitarian situation” in Idleb during a telephone interview with Vladimir Putin, whose country is the main supporter of the Damascus regime.
They “expressed their willingness to meet President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan to find a political solution to the crisis,” added the chancellery. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said in Moscow on Friday that “the possibility of holding a summit is under discussion”.
In statements to the press in Istanbul before speaking with his Russian counterpart, Recep Erdogan said that this interview “will determine our attitude for the future” concerning Idleb.
“As long as the regime continues to be cruel, it is out of the question for us to withdraw from there,” he added.
Under an agreement with Moscow, Turkey, which supports rebel groups, has twelve military observation posts in the province of Idleb, many of which are now found in areas that the Assad regime had recaptured from favored by its offensive launched in December with the support of the Russian air force.
Turkey announced on Thursday that two of its soldiers had been killed in an airstrike attributed to the Syrian regime, bringing the number of Turkish soldiers killed in northwestern Syria since early February to 16.
The tone continues to show between Ankara and Moscow, which seems determined to help the Syrian regime to recapture Idleb at all costs, which fears a confrontation on the ground between the two countries.
About 900,000 people, the vast majority of them women and children, have fled since December, according to the UN. Never has Syria, at war since 2011, experienced such an exodus over such a short period.
If Turkey is so concerned about the situation in this border region, it is because it fears the arrival on its soil of a new wave of refugees. The country already hosts more than 3.6 million Syrians.
EU leaders, gathered in Brussels on Friday, called for an end to the “unacceptable” military offensive in Idleb.
On Thursday, the Russian army said it had carried out strikes to stop an attack by armed factions supported by Ankara against positions of the regime, calling on Turkey to “stop supporting the actions of terrorist groups and giving them weapons”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), an NGO, reported that Turkish-backed groups had launched an offensive in the Al-Nayrab region, south of Idleb, reporting 25 fighters killed in both camps.
According to Moscow and the OSDH, Turkish artillery bombed regime positions to support this attack.
Recep Erdogan repeatedly urged Assad’s forces to withdraw from certain areas in Idleb before the end of February, threatening to use force if not.