Turkey ready for talks to avoid clash with Assad's regime
Turkey signalled it is ready for communication with Syria as Russia sought to avert a direct clash between the two countries over a Turkish military offensive against a Kurdish enclave.
Turkish intelligence officials "may establish direct or indirect contact when it is required to solve certain problems under extraordinary conditions," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said. "This wouldn't amount to official contacts with the Syrian regime."
He spoke a day after Syrian pro-government fighters moved to join Kurdish forces in the northwestern border town of Afrin, where they are battling a Turkish incursion. With Syrian flags plastered on their armoured vehicles, the forces left Aleppo in what state-run Syrian TV said was an initiative to help "defend our people against the Turkish aggression".
More pro-government forces arrived in Afrin yesterday, the official SANA news service said.
The deployment raised the spectre of military conflict between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey, which is a member of Nato. While Assad has managed to reassert control over a large part of his country after seven years of war, the Syrian conflict is entering a dangerous new phase amid spiralling tensions between Russia, the US, Iran and Israel.
US strikes may have killed more than 200 Russian mercenaries attacking American-backed forces in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor region earlier this month.
The Turkish campaign in Syria aimed at expelling Kurdish fighters from the border area is in its second month. Turkish officials view Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria as an extension of the Kurdish PKK separatists that the governments fought in eastern Turkey for decades. While the Kurds in Syria have inflicted some losses on the Turks, hundreds of people have been killed in punishing aerial and artillery bombardments, according to officials in Moscow.
"Turkey should enter into negotiations with Syria to resolve the issue," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "I am certain that Turkey's legitimate security concerns can be fully addressed through direct dialogue with the Syrian government."
Russia's mediation may be the only way for Mr Erdogan to get out of a "difficult situation," said Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Affairs, which advises the Kremlin. "Turkey is unlikely to pull out completely from northern Syria but we're talking about an end to the military operation in Afrin."
At least 250 civilians, including 58 children, have been killed by bombardments and air strikes in the past 48 hours in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.