Ankara boosts efforts to prevent disaster in Idlib
Turkey is working with Russia and Iran over Syria’s Idlib province “to prevent another Aleppo-like disaster” amid reports the Syrian army intensified preparations for a large-scale offensive against the last rebel-held enclave in a bid to bring an end to the seven-year-long civil war in the country.
“We are conducting joint works with the Russians and Iranians on Idlib to prevent another Aleppo-like disaster,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a Victory Day reception at the presidential palace in Ankara on Aug. 30.
Turkey has intensified contacts with Russia and Iran in recent days amid escalating tension over the Syrian regime’s impending military operation on Idlib. Turkey’s foreign and defense ministers paid a visit to Moscow, while Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held talks in the Turkish capital last week.
In Vienna, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu echoed Erdoğan’s statement, stressing Turkey’s efforts to prevent a large-scale military operation by the Syrian army into Idlib.
“There are concerns over an imminent offensive into Idlib. We are in efforts to stop it,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters in Vienna where he joined EU foreign ministers in unofficial meetings on Aug. 31, stressing that failing to separate civilians from terrorists will cause a grave humanitarian disaster in the war-torn country.
Çavuşoğlu said the leaders of the three guarantor powers will come together at a summit on Sept. 7 in Iran.
“We are discussing this issue with our other partners. Such an attack would be disastrous for Syria and Idlib,” Çavuşoğlu said.
The Syrian regime emerged victorious in operations on the cities of Deraa, Homs, and Aleppo, ousting armed rebel groups from swathes of Syrian territory in recent years. It is now planning an assault on the last rebel-held enclave of Idlib, dominated by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a hardline group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Idlib’s population is at least three million, most of them displaced from other places in Syria and caught in the middle with nowhere to go.
“There is an extremist group here [in Idlib]. They were deployed here from Aleppo and we are well aware of them. We have to work together in separating these groups from civilians and eliminating them [terrorists]. This is the healthiest and most efficient way,” the minister stressed.
“Otherwise there could be very serious problems from the humanitarian, security and political settlement perspectives,” he added.
The U.N. worries that the offensive could force 2.5 million people toward the Turkish border. Thousands of refugees had fled to Turkey after the regime assault targeting Aleppo in 2016.
Fearing a similar military offensive by the regime, the U.N. envoy for Syria proposed Aug. 30 that civilians holed up in Idlib could evacuate to government areas.
The U.N. said it believes there are “around 10,000 armed jihadist terrorists in the province.”