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AFP
February 17, 2020

Attacks on Idlib must stop: Turkey

World

AFP
February 17, 2020

Ankara/beirut: Turkey’s foreign minister said on Sunday he has told his Russian counterpart that the Damascus regime’s attacks on the last rebel-held bastion in Syria must stop.

Backed by Russian air power, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been intensifying his assault on the holdout northwestern province of Idlib. And tensions have been running high between Ankara and Moscow after 14 Turks were killed in shelling by Syrian government forces in the region.

"I stressed that the attacks in Idlib must stop and it was necessary to establish a lasting ceasefire that would not be violated," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists in Germany.

Cavusoglu met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday during the Munich Security Conference. Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of a 2018 deal reached between Ankara and Moscow in the Russian resort of Sochi to prevent a regime offensive.

But despite the agreement, Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air strikes, have pressed ahead with an assault to retake the province, killing hundreds of people. Four of the Turkish posts are believed to be encircled by Syrian forces, and Ankara has threatened to attack Damascus if they do not retreat by the end of February.

A Turkish delegation will head to Moscow on Monday, after Russian officials visited Ankara last weekend but no concrete agreement emerged. Rebel supporter Turkey and Damascus ally Russia have worked closely on Syria in recent years despite being on opposing sides of the nine-year conflict.

Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces on Sunday seized a dozen villages and small towns as they pressed an offensive in the country’s northwest against the last major rebel bastion, a war monitor said.

Backed by Russian air strikes, government forces have kept up the assault on the Idlib region and areas of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces since December.

On Sunday, they captured 13 villages and small towns north and northwest of the city of Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria’s state run agency SANA said army units were pushing on with their advance around Aleppo. Regime forces have for weeks been making gains in northwestern Syria and chipping away at territory held by jihadists and allied rebels, focusing their latest operations on the west of Aleppo province.

The drive aims to bolster security in Syria’s second city Aleppo, which President Bashar al-Assad’s government retook completely from insurgents at the end of 2016 but which is still targeted by rocket fire.

Last week, regime forces seized control of the strategic M5 highway which connects the capital Damascus to Aleppo, the country’s former economic hub, and is economically vital for the government.

According to the Observatory, Assad’s forces are trying to consolidate a "security belt" around the M5 and on Friday they seized a key base lost to the rebels in 2012 just west of Aleppo.