Friday 23 August 2019

Russia calls on Erdogan to rein in Idlib rebels

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Getty Images
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Getty Images

Maria Tsvetkova

The Kremlin yesterday told Turkey it must stop rebels in Syria's Idlib province from firing on civilian and Russian targets.

Russia rejected protests from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan over its backing for a Syrian government offensive in Idlib, the last significant stronghold of anti-government rebels.

Mr Erdogan called on Thursday for a ceasefire in the month-long offensive, the biggest escalation of the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer.

The Kremlin made it clear yesterday that it was unmoved by Mr Erdogan's calls, saying the rebels were the ones who had to implement a ceasefire in the first instance.

"We really do need a ceasefire in Idlib and what needs to be achieved is for the terrorists to stop firing on civilian targets and on certain facilities where our troops are located," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"This is the responsibility of the Turkish side."

Mr Erdogan's office said he had asked Vladimir Putin for a ceasefire to prevent more civilian deaths and a refugee influx to Turkey.

He also told Mr Putin by phone that Syria needed a political solution. The Turkish leader has repeatedly complained to Moscow about the Russian-backed offensive.

People displaced by the fighting protested yesterday at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing into Turkey, calling for an end to the strikes and for Ankara to open the frontier, something it refuses to do.

Russia has complained of rocket and drone attacks against its main Hmeymim air base being launched from Idlib, which Peskov called "a highly dangerous tendency".

The fate of the province has strained relations between Russia and Turkey, which is keen to retain influence there because of its geographical proximity.

Russia, one of the Syrian government's staunchest allies, and Turkey brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib that would be free of all heavy weapons and jihadist fighters.

But Moscow, which is keen to help Mr Assad retake territory, has complained about escalating violence in the area and said that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group are in control of large tracts of territory.

It has blamed Turkey for not doing enough to hold its side of the bargain, while Ankara, worried about refugees crossing from Idlib into Turkey, has repeatedly urged restraint.

The UN said last week that more than 200,000 people had fled the violence since the government offensive began.

Many of those who have fled had already been displaced from their homes earlier in the war, sometimes fleeing time after time.

Irish Independent

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