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Friday / January 19.

Turkey warns Russia, Iran as Syria tensions mount


ANKARA: Turkey called on Russia and Iran on Wednesday to pressure the Syrian regime to halt a military offensive in Syria’s opposition-held Idlib province, which Damascus launched despite an international deal to reduce hostilities there.
As pro-regime forces pressed the assault, the Russian Defense Ministry’s newspaper said Moscow had asked the Turkish military to tighten control over armed groups in Idlib. It said militants had used the province as the launch pad for a drone attack on two Russian bases in the last week.
Idlib has become a focal point of the Syrian war as Assad’s forces and allied militia have thrust toward an insurgent-held air base. Idlib, bordering Turkey, is the largest single chunk of Syria still under the control of opposition groups fighting President Bashar Assad.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concern for an estimated 2 million people in the Idlib region. A fresh conflict could trigger more displacement on Turkey’s southern border.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Russia and Iran must fulfill their duties under a joint accord reached with Turkey last year in which the three countries announced a “de-escalation zone” in Idlib.
He said advances by the regime army and allied forces into Idlib could not have taken place without the support of Moscow and Tehran.
“Iran and Russia need to carry out their responsibilities. If you are guarantors, which you are, stop the regime,” Cavusoglu told the state-run Anadolu news agency in an interview broadcast on Turkish television channels.
Cavusoglu’s ministry summoned the Iranian and Russian ambassadors on Tuesday to complain about violations of the Idlib de-escalation zone, and he said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might call Russia’s Vladimir Putin on the issue.
Turkey has recently been working with his allies Russia and Iran for a political resolution to the conflict. But Cavusoglu said the Idlib offensive was endangering those efforts.
“This isn’t a simple airstrike, the regime is advancing into Idlib. The goal is different here,” he said. “If the aim here is to make some unwilling opposition groups go to Sochi, it will backfire,” he added, referring to Russia’s plans to host a congress on Syria at the end of this month.
Regime forces have taken scores of villages in recent weeks near the provincial border between Idlib and Hama, with the help of Iran-backed militias and Russian air power. They have progressed toward the Abu Al-Duhur military airport, where rebels completely ousted the regime forces in 2015.
The forces had advanced to within 3 km of the air base on Wednesday, said a military media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which fights on the regime forces’ side.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army and allied militias captured 16 villages and positions on Wednesday. They clashed with Tahrir Al-Sham fighters around the airport, the Britain-based war-monitoring group said.
The combatants also battled from another direction along a front south of Aleppo city, near the border with Idlib.
Tahrir Al-Sham, spearheaded by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch is now the dominant insurgent force in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Fighting and airstrikes have forced more than 60,000 people to leave their homes since Nov. 1, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Under last year’s deal with Iran and Russia, Turkey says it has deployed troops to observation points in northern Idlib, about 60 km north of the latest regime offensive.
Cavusoglu said Ankara would host a meeting on Syria with like-minded countries after the summit in Russia’s Sochi.



via AN