Turkey, Russia, Iran agree to ease tension in Syria’s Idlib region: report

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (L), Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (C) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) attend a press conference after meeting in Tehran on September 7, 2018. AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV

The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meeting in Ankara on Monday agreed to try to ease tensions in northwest Syria’s Idlib region, but disagreements between the countries appeared to linger, especially over the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to Reuters.

The summit of the three countries — all of which have allies fighting in Syria’s ruinous eight-year-old war — aimed to find a lasting truce in Syria. Recent attacks by Syrian government forces risk deepening regional turmoil and pushing a new wave of migrants towards Turkey.

“We are in a period when we need to take more responsibility for peace in Syria, when we [three countries] need to carry more weight,” Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, adding that all three leaders were in agreement that a political solution was necessary to end the crisis in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, have supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the rebels. Erdoğan, along with the United States, and European and Arab allies, has supported different rebel factions.

On Monday the three leaders said in a joint statement that they were alarmed about the risk of further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in and around Idlib and had agreed to take “concrete steps” to stop violations of previously negotiated agreements between the three countries.

Disagreements appeared to persist, however, in particular over the threat in Syria from the ISIL, which Erdoğan dismissed completely while Putin expressed concern.

Erdoğan focused on a planned “safe zone” with Russia and Iran in northern Syria, which he said could host up to 3 million refugees currently living in Turkey if it was extended from Turkey’s border to Deir al Zor and Raqqa.

Neither Putin nor Rouhani commented on the Turkish plans and the joint statement did not refer to them, however.

According to the joint statement, the talks focused on Idlib, the last remaining territory held by rebels seeking to overthrow Assad.

Syrian troops on Sunday shelled the south of Idlib in the area where a ceasefire had halted the fierce army offensive two weeks ago, according to rescuers and residents.

Turkey, which has a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria along its southern frontier, has 12 military observation posts in the region, under a deal with Moscow and Tehran in 2017. In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Erdoğan warned that Turkey would retaliate against any Syrian government attack on Turkish posts.

Erdoğan and Putin, who agreed last month to take steps to “normalize” the situation in Idlib after Syrian troops encircled rebels and a Turkish post in the region, reiterated the need to root out militant groups the region.

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