Russia said on Monday that there will be no new military operation against Syria’s Idlib by the Syrian government forces and their allies after president Vladimir Putin met with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The two leaders, who back opposing sides in Syria’s seven-year war, came together in an ad hoc meeting in the Russian resort city of Sochi as tensions over the fate of rebel-held Idlib province ratchet up.
They have signed a memorandum on the stabilisation of Syria’s Idlib city to prevent an offensive by the Syrian government forces that would lead to scores of casualties of civilians.
The Syrian government, backed by Russian air power, appeared recently to be poised to stage an assault on the last major opposition bastion, which is also home to thousands of hardline militants.
Putin said that they agreed with Turkey to create a demilitarised zone of 15-20 kilometres wide between rebels and Syrian government forces by 15 of October.
Russian and Turkish forces will patrol the demilitarised zone. Radical rebel groups, including Al-Nusra Front, will withdraw from the zone, and heavy weapons held by Syrian rebels in Idlib city should be handed over by October 10.
This approach, Putin said, is supported by the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad.
Translation: Our wish in Turkey and Russia is to solve the Syrian crisis according to the UN Security Council resolution 2254. We will keep our cooperation to achieve this goal.
Turkey’s president Erdogan said that his country will carry out coordinated patrols in the demilitarised zone in Idlib with the Russians.
He said that the biggest threat to Turkey is the Kurdish movement of People’s Protection Units (YPG) rather than Idlib. Turkey considers the YPG as a terrorist organisation.
Erdogan tweeted later in Arabic that “our wish in Turkey and Russia is to solve the Syrian crisis according to the UN Security Council resolution 2254. We will keep our cooperation to achieve this goal.”
Turkey, which borders Idlib, supports some rebel groups there and has grave concern over the effects of an operation in the province that holds some three million people.
Speaking ahead of the Sochi meeting, Erdogan played up hopes around the joint statement that he is due to issue with Putin.
Putin, meanwhile, outlined the myriad of differences the two leaders have over Syria.
“We have a lot of issues to discuss, including difficult ones,” Putin said at the start of the talks, adding that the meeting would help “find solutions for where there are none yet”.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said after the meeting that there will be no new military operation against Syria’s Idlib by Syrian government forces and their allies, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
He was speaking after the Russian and Turkish presidents agreed on the creation of a demilitarized zone in Idlib to separate rebel forces in the city from Syrian government forces.
Erdogan and Putin met 10 days ago in Tehran alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where the Turkish leader publicly called for a ceasefire.
Turkish daily Hurriyet on Monday quoted Erdogan as saying he believed his words in the Iranian capital had had a positive effect.
“The situation in Idlib has been calm for three days. It looks like we obtained a result with the efforts which were made,” the newspaper quoted the president as telling reporters on a flight back from Azerbaijan at the weekend. “But we are still not satisfied.”
Turkey, with 3.5 million Syrian refugees, has already borne the “political and human burden” of the Syrian war and any new refugee flow would head for Turkey, Erdogan said.
The Turkish military has deployed at observation points across Idlib, and Ankara hopes to be given time to separate al-Qaeda-linked militants from the rebels it backs.
Reports on Monday said Turkey has recently sent its largest contingent of reinforcements to Idlib in weeks.
Hurriyet said they included tanks and some 50 military vehicles, which crossed the border and headed down to the Jisr al-Shughour area in the province’s south which recently witnessed an uptick of bombing by Syrian and Russian jets.
“Let’s all take steps, measures together against the terror groups among the opposition in Idlib,” Erdogan said according to Hurriyet. “But let’s not create an excuse and take a step like bombing there.”
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