Lavrov to pay a key visit to Ankara to discuss Syria, Idlib
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will pay a visit to the Turkish capital on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14 where he will hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on recent developments in Syria and other regional issues.
Lavrov’s visit was announced by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a briefing to reporters in Moscow on Aug. 9. The two men will also discuss the schedule of the forthcoming high-level contacts, issues connected with Syria and bilateral economic issues.
“The main attention will be paid to the current international agenda in Syria peacebuilding, in the Middle East, the Caucasus region, Central Asia, in Ukraine and in the Black Sea region,” she said.
They will also discuss the developing of economic and trade ties, particularly the building of Akkuyu and the Turkish Stream.
Apart from his official meetings with Çavuşoğlu, the Russian top diplomat is also expected to address the Turkish ambassadors who will be gathered in Ankara for a week-long annual conference.
One of the top issues the two ministers will discuss will be the Syrian regime’s preparations for a massive assault into the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, a territory designated as a de-escalation zone by Turkey, Russia and Iran. The province is the largest chunk of territory still in rebel hands, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned it would be his military’s next priority.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a meeting in South Africa last month to stop a potential Damascus’ military operation into the region where Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have built 12 observation posts, as part of a three-way deal between them.
However, Lavrov, in a recent statement, directly supported a potential military move by Damascus, stressing that there is no room for terrorists in Syria at a moment when the country is making an effort for stabilization.
Syrian forces shell rebel positions in Idlib
The Syrian regime has intensified its military deployment and preparations, especially after it gained control in the south and southeastern Syria.
On Aug. 9, Syrian regime forces shelled rebel and jihadist positions in Idlib and dropped leaflets warning of an impending assault. Government helicopters dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s eastern countryside urging people to surrender, an AFP correspondent said.
“The war is nearing an end... We are calling on you to join the local reconciliations, as many of our people in Syria did,” said the leaflets, which were stamped with the military’s seal. Such surrender deals typically see rebels hand over territory to government troops in exchange for a halt to shelling, the return of state institutions, and a chance to either join regime forces or be bussed out of the area.
“The fate of your family, children, and future depend on your decision,” warned the leaflets. Heavy artillery and rocket fire on Thursday morning slammed into territory around Jisr al-Shughur, a key town in the southwestern part of the province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The shelling is in preparation for an assault but there has been no ground advance yet,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. “Regime reinforcements including equipment, soldiers, vehicles and ammunition have been arriving since Tuesday,” he told AFP.
They were being distributed along three regime-held fronts, including in the neighboring Latakia province just west of Jisr al-Shughur, in the Sahl al-Ghab plain south of Idlib, and in a sliver of the province’s southeast that is already in government hands.
Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, also reported on Aug. 9 that army troops had bombed rebel and jihadist positions in the area. Idlib, which has escaped regime control since 2015, lies along the border with Turkey but is otherwise nearly completely surrounded by government-held territory.
Around 60 percent of it is now held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is led by al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, while the rest is controlled by rival opposition factions. Syrian troops have recaptured key swathes of the country in recent months with help from ally Russia, which has brokered a string of surrender deals with rebels.
Apparently fearing a similar arrangement for Idlib, HTS has been arresting dozens of figures in the province that have been go-betweens with the regime.
The Idlib province is home to around 2.5 million people, including rebels and civilians transferred en masse from other territory that fell to Syrian troops after intense assaults.