Turkey's Erdogan gets no love from Russian Federation on Idlib

Geraldine Edwards
September 8, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday openly disagreed about a "ceasefire" in Syria's Idlib province, highlighting their differences despite a close cooperation.

"We think it's unacceptable when (someone) is trying to shield the terrorists under the pretext of protecting civilians as well as causing damage to Syrian government troops", Putin said.

America's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has warned any military offensive in Idlib "would be a reckless escalation". And Russia wants to maintain its regional presence to fill the vacuum left by the U.S.'s long uncertainty about what it wants in the conflict.

Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country. Erdogan pledged in June to facilitate the return of refugees.

Amnesty International warns that the residents of Idlib, many of them already refugees from elsewhere in Syria, can not bear another offensive using starvation and indiscriminate bombardment. "Apparently, attempts to stage the use of poisonous agents by the Syrian authorities have this goal".

"The shocking civilian death tolls and war crimes witnessed recently in other parts of Syrian such as eastern Aleppo city, Eastern Ghouta and Daraa must not be repeated in Idlib", Samah Hadid, Middle East director of Amnesty International, said.

US officials have said they will defend themselves if attacked.

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"We hope that we will be able to reach an agreement and that our call for reconciliation in the Idlib area will be heard", the Russian president said.

Putin responded: "The fact is that there are no representatives of the armed opposition here around this table".

There was no immediate reaction from fighters in Idlib.

Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation, said on Friday his fighters were prepared for a battle that they expect will spark a major humanitarian crisis.

"Idlib is about a lot of worldwide power play and everyone is looking after their interests", al-Mustafa said.

During the Friday meeting, Rouhani said Tehran and Moscow must tap the new opportunities for expansion of cooperation and development of multilateralism. "Imagine there is a meeting to calm the situation, while we are being hit, and there are airstrikes as it takes place".

"Any attack on Idlib will result in tragedy and the massacre of the civilians, . and 3.5 million people will be affected", he said.

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Eight aid agencies warned that in the coming offensive "it will be the most vulnerable who will pay the heaviest price, with women, children, and the elderly in Idlib unlikely to be able to move to safety".

US policy is not that "Assad must go", Jeffrey said. "Airstrikes by Russian Federation and the regime have already begun against civilian areas". Asked whether Trump had signed off on what he called "a more active approach", Jeffrey said, "I am confident the president is on board with this".

Much of the motivation for the change, officials said, stems from growing doubts about whether Russian Federation, which Trump has said could be a partner, is able and willing to help eject Iran.

As the conflict approaches its endgame, Iran, Turkey and Russian Federation are seeking to safeguard their own interests after investing heavily militarily and diplomatically in Syria.

"We urge Russian Federation to consider its options carefully. Work with us and the U.N.to find peace at last for Syria", she said. About 2,200 USA troops are serving in Syria, virtually all of them devoted to the war against the Islamic State in the eastern third of the country.

Turkish military forces are also in Idlib, where they have pushed back Syrian Kurds from the Syria-Turkey border.

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