Erdogan seeks Putin to help contain Idlib violence

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ANKARA Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to halt the Syrian regime´s violence in Idlib as efforts intensified to avoid more bloodshed in the final rebel holdout. Russian air strikes in the northwestern province of Idlib are bolstering a Syrian government offensive that has forced nearly one million civilians to flee — the biggest wave of displacement of the nine-year conflict. “The president during the call stressed that the regime should be restrained in Idlib and that the humanitarian crisis must be stopped,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement after the two leaders spoke by phone. Putin, for his part, told Erdogan that he was “seriously concerned” by the “aggressive actions” of jihadists in Syria´s Idlib region. The two leaders agreed to “intensify bilateral consultations on Idlib with the aim of reducing tensions, guaranteeing a ceasefire and neutralising the terrorist threat”, the Kremlin said in a statement. Erdogan told Putin the solution was to return to the Sochi agreement they signed in 2018, which allowed Turkey to establish military posts across Idlib designed to prevent a regime assault. That deal has been increasingly set aside as Syrian forces advance steadily into the region. Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in the province, has lost 16 military personnel this month in clashes with Syrian troops. It has reinforced its positions and called on President Bashar alAssad to pull his forces back. Erdogan also held a threeway call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which he called for “concrete actions to prevent a humanitarian crisis”. Turkey is determined to prevent a fresh influx of displaced people adding to the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it already hosts. With Ankara threatening an “imminent” operation against the Syrian regime, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar inspected troops gathered at the Syrian border on Friday. Erdogan spoke of establishing a “safe zone” to provide shelter and support to fleeing civilians facing harsh winter conditions, adding that Turkish organisations were already building structures in the area.—AFP

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