Turkey gives Idlib diplomacy time but warns of refugee crisis

Clay Curtis
February 16, 2020

Maas urged Russian Federation to place pressure, "on the Assad regime so that these attacks and fighting are stopped".

Cavusoglu also said plans to acquire and deploy Russian missile defence system S-400 remain unchanged despite recent United States pleas to abandon them.

Turkey has stuck to its commitments in Syria's Idlib region made in agreements with Russian Federation and Iran, amid increased violence caused by a Syrian government offensive, Vice President Fuat Oktay said.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said later on Saturday that Turkey wants to resolve matters with Russian Federation over Idlib through diplomacy, but will take other steps if necessary.

Cavusoglu also had talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich on Saturday - the first ministerial level meeting between Ankara and Moscow since the situation deteriorated in Idlib. "Some of our observation posts have fallen into areas controlled by the (Syrian) regime", he said, referring to Turkish military observation posts established in Idlib under the 2018 deal.

Debris are seen in the Maarat al-Numan city, Idlib Province, Syria, on January 30, 2020.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later on Saturday repeated the threat that Turkey would "take necessary measures" if diplomatic efforts with Russian Federation failed.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Idlib province are scrambling to escape a widening, multi-front offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

The situation in Idlib could see the flight of a million new refugees, but Turkey can't afford to host them after receiving more than 3.5 million Syrians since the civil war began nine years ago, Erdogan was cited as saying by national television channels on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to resolve matters with Russian Federation over Idlib through diplomacy.

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Much of the Turkish military equipment being sent into Syria finds its way into the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra* immediately after crossing the border, a military-diplomatic source told Sputnik on Saturday.

But, speaking during an worldwide security conference in Munich, he added: "If it won't work through diplomatic channels, we will take the necessary steps".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Turkish counterpart on Saturday that it's a "very hard task" to resolve the crisis even as contacts continue.

Iran, which also supports Assad, said last week it was ready to help Ankara and Damascus resolve their disputes.

Turkey, which now hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, has said it can not handle a new influx from Idlib. It has poured more than 5,000 troops, several convoys of military vehicles and equipment to the region, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and radar equipment to bolster its positions.

He criticised Moscow's statements after his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday but did not give details.

However, there was no sign of an agreement, with both sides accusing the other of failing to meet their responsibilities.

Despite being on opposing sides, rebel supporter Turkey and Damascus ally Russian Federation have worked closely on Syria.

Erdogan said Russia-backed Syrian forces have suffered serious casualties and lost a helicopter in recent days, following the death of more than a dozen Turkish soldiers in attacks carried out by the Syrian army.

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