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Merkel, Macron Tell Putin They Are Ready to Facilitate Northwestern Syria De-Escalation Efforts

© AP Photo / Ghaith AlsayedTurkish military convoy is seen near the town of Idlib, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020
Turkish military convoy is seen near the town of Idlib, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 - Sputnik International
Clashes between government forces and militants backed by Turkey in the northwestern province of Idlib have intensified recently, while the Turkish forces have also carried out several strikes against the Syrian Arab Army.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have said in a phone conversation with Russia's President Vladimir Putin they are ready for joint talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resolve the Idlib crisis, German cabinet's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Thursday.

They also expressed their readiness to facilitate efforts aimed at de-escalating the situation in northwestern Syria.

"Chancellor Merkel and President Macron have said they are significantly concerned over the catastrophic humanitarian situation that people are facing in the Syrian province of Idlib. They have called for immediately ceasing hostilities and ensuring unhampered humanitarian access to those in need. They have expressed readiness to hold a joint meeting with Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan to find a political solution to the crisis", Seibert said.

The Kremlin press service also said in a statement Merkel and Macron "paid particular attention to resolving the Syrian crisis in the context of the sharp deterioration of the situation in Idlib as a result of aggressive actions by extremist groups against the Syrian government forces and civilians".

"Vladimir Putin stressed the need for effective measures to neutralise the terrorist threat while respecting the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic", the statement added.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Defence Ministry said that pro-Turkish militants, supported by Turkish artillery, had breached the defences of the Syrian army near the villages of Qmenas and Nerab in Idlib. Russia's Su-24 attack aircraft fired at the militants, helping the army repel the advancing fighters, the center added. The Turkish Defence Ministry later reported that two Turkish soldiers had been killed and five injured in an air attack in Idlib, adding that over 50 Syrians had been killed in the response fire.

The situation in Idlib has escalated recently, as the Turkish army has carried out several strikes against the Syrian Arab Army after five of its servicemen were killed by Syrian forces at an outpost in the rebel-controlled province of Idlib - the last major stronghold of jihadists in the country, prompting President Erdogan to threaten a full-scale military offensive in Idlib at "any minute".

According to the Turkish president, the country's servicemen "had been deployed to the region to prevent conflicts in Idlib".

Damascus said the armed factions in Idlib province had ignored the ceasefire agreement and repeatedly attacked Syrian government forces.

In December, Syrian government forces launched a counter-terror operation to recapture areas of Idlib province, a region that is mostly under the control of the militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly known as Al-Nusra Front*). As of today, Idlib remains one of the four de-escalation zones, established by Russia, Iran, and Turkey back in 2017, that is not under the control of the Syrian government.

In September 2018, Putin and Erdogan also agreed to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib, where more than a dozen forces are stationed. Commenting on the situation in the province on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that a demilitarised zone in Idlib has not been created yet and that militants operating in the area "are not guaranteed safety".

*Al-Nusra Front (also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or al-Qaeda in Syria) is a terrorist group outlawed in Russia 

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