Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday he would discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin ways to protect Syrians from potential attack in the northern province of İdlib, the largest remaining Syrian rebel-held enclave, Reuters reported.
Syria’s government and allied forces backed by Russia and Iran have swiftly recaptured other rebel strongholds in the southwest and vowed to push on and recover all of the country.
Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Erdoğan described the situation in Deraa and İdlib — where Turkey has set up a dozen military observation posts — as troublesome.
“We will be discussing Deraa [with Russia], which is one of the most problematic issues of all. There is also the issue of İdlib, which we will discuss because in these places anything can happen at any time,” he said.
“What we want is that Syrian people would be protected from these attacks and particularly the brutal attacks of some organizations in the region,” Erdoğan said.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Russian military, have captured most of the southern province of Deraa in an offensive that began in June.
Deraa city was the scene of the first major peaceful protests against Assad in March 2011 which spiraled into a war now estimated to have killed half a million people.
Erdoğan has already raised the issue of İdlib with Putin in a telephone conversation in mid-July, saying an attack by the Syrian army there could destroy the Astana process, a deal struck last year with Russia and Iran to reduce fighting between insurgents and the Syrian government in de-escalation zones.
Erdoğan said the avoidance of “negative developments” in İdlib was important in terms of encouraging rebel groups to attend a meeting in Astana planned for July 30-31, according to a source at the Turkish presidency.
In recent days, at least 2,400 people have been evacuated from Deraa to İdlib and Aleppo’s western countryside, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
The Syrian government’s military operations in the region led to a major displacement crisis, with an estimated 350,000 civilians fleeing Deraa towards areas near the border.