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Erdogan Stresses Need to Contain Syrian Army in Idlib and Prevent Humanitarian Crisis

© REUTERS / STRINGERTurkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, 12 February 2020.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, 12 February 2020.  - Sputnik International
Earlier this week, a Turkish delegation arrived in Moscow for talks regarding the situation in Idlib. However, Ankara announced it was dissatisfied with the negotiations, and no deal was struck. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey was fully ready for its own operation in Idlib and could launch it at "any minute."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has underlined the importance of containing the Syrian Arab Army in Idlib province and preventing a humanitarian disaster, the Turkish presidential administration said on Friday following Erdogan's phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian President expressed his serious concern over aggressive steps taken by extremist groups in Idlib.

"The talks focused again on the situation in Idlib de-escalation zone. Vladimir Putin expressed significant concerns over the continuing aggression of extremist groups. The need for unconditional respect for Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity was stressed," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The two heads of state confirmed their commitment to all previous agreements on Syria. In particular, Erdogan stressed that the implementation of the Sochi agreements is a key condition for settling the crisis in northwestern Syria.

Earlier the same day, Erdogan said that Turkey would not withdraw from Idlib Province as long as Syrian government forces continue to press on with their 'violent onslaught'.

"According to the latest data, we have neutralised 150 'regime elements', destroyed 12 tanks, three armoured vehicles, 14 howitzers and two pickup trucks. We will not pull out from Idlib until the regime halts its aggression against the province's population. This is the only condition for cessation of hostilities", Erdogan said.

Addressing the issue of Patriot air-defence systems, Erdogan said that Ankara requested the weapons systems from the Trump administration, but is still not abandoning Russia's S-400s.

According to the Turkish president, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have proposed holding a four-way summit in Istanbul on 5 March, with the attendance of Russia, to resolve the situation in Idlib.

Tensions Running High in Idlib Province

Earlier in February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Turkey had not fulfilled several key commitments on Idlib, including its failure to distinguish between the armed opposition, which is ready for dialogue with the government within the framework of the political process, from terrorists. In turn, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay has claimed that Ankara had fulfilled its obligations in Idlib.

A displaced Syrian girl rides in the back of a truck on the way to Deir al-Ballut camp in Afrin's countryside along the border with Turkey, on February 19, 2020 - Sputnik International
Russian MoD Refutes Reports That 'About Million' Refugees Moving From Idlib to Syrian-Turkish Border

In May 2017, Turkey, Russia and Iran, as the guarantors of the Syrian ceasefire, agreed during talks in Nur-Sultan (formerly, Astana) to create four de-escalation zones in Syria. Damascus gained control over three of them in 2018, but the fourth, located in Idlib and parts of several neighbouring provinces, is mostly controlled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist organisation (formerly known as Nusra Front)*. In September 2018, Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in the province, where more than 10 different militant groups are operating along with Tahrir al-Sham.

*Jabhat al-Nusra (also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or al-Qaeda in Syria) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia

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