Turkey hopes to find solution on Syria’s Idlib with Russia

ANKARA: Turkey’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he hoped his country and Russia could find a solution over the northern Syrian region of Idlib, a rebel-held enclave which the Syrian government says it aims to recapture.
The Idlib region, a refuge for civilians and rebels displaced from other areas of Syria as well as powerful militant forces, was hit by a wave of air strikes and shelling last week, in a possible prelude to a full-scale government offensive.
Turkey, which has backed some rebel groups in the region and set up a dozen military observation posts, is trying to avert an attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who is backed by Moscow.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was important to distinguish between “terrorists”, rebel fighters and up to three million civilians in Idlib.
“We need to determine these terrorist (groups) and eliminate them with intelligence and military forces,” he said in Ankara ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, whose country has backed Assad militarily.
“It would be a massacre to bomb Idlib, civilians, hospitals, schools just because there are terrorists.”
Idlib is controlled by an array of insurgent groups, with militants believed to be the dominant force there.
“We need to differentiate between moderate rebels and radicals. The local people and the moderate rebels are very disturbed by these terrorists so we need to fight against them all together,” Cavusoglu said.
Last week UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said that Turkey, Russia and Iran had all agreed to “do their utmost to avoid” a battle in Idlib.
The Syrian army dropped leaflets over Idlib province last Thursday, urging people to agree to a return of state rule, telling them the seven year war was nearing its end.
Lavrov, speaking at a news conference with Cavusoglu, also said Moscow was surprised at what he said was Western opposition to refugee returns to Syria.
“A huge (portion) of Syria has been freed of terrorists. It’s time to rebuild infrastructure, all living necessities for refugees from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and from Europe to start returning to their home,” he said.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday a four-way Syria summit “is planned in the upcoming future”, with the leaders of Russia, France, Turkey and Germany attending.
Meanwhile, the co-chair of the political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said it went to Damascus last week for a second round of talks with the government.
A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF, which controls roughly a quarter of Syria, held talks with Damascus this month in their first declared visit to the capital.
The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to Assad’s government, as they seek to negotiate a political deal that keeps their autonomy within Syria. Negotiations could also raise new questions for US policy in Syria.
The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has mostly avoided conflict with Assad.
This has set them apart from rebel factions fighting to bring down Assad since 2011, which have now been defeated in much of the territory they once held. The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) went for new talks on decentralization and the constitution, co-chair Riad Darar said on Tuesday.
The “long dialogue” included a proposal from Damascus for the de facto autonomous region to take part in the state’s local elections next month, he said. — Agencies