Turkish president hopes for ceasefire in meeting with Putin

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PHOTO: AFP

Turkey’s president said he hopes to broker a cease-fire later this week in Moscow when he meets with his Russian counterpart, after growing alarm over direct clashes between Turkish troops and Russian-backed Syrian forces in northern Syria, according to The Associated Press.

The fighting in Syria’s Idlib province, the last rebel-held area in the country, has sparked one of the war’s worst humanitarian crises, with almost 1 million Syrian civilians fleeing toward the sealed Turkish border.

Turkey has sent thousands of troops into the area supporting the opposition fighters holed up there but hasn’t been able to stop the government offensive.

Fighting worsened over the past days after Syrian shelling killed 36 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Turkey responded with drone attacks and shelling that killed more than 90 Syrian troops and allied gunmen. The Turkish air force also shot down two Syrian warplanes after Syria’s air defenses shot down one of its drones.

Turkey lost 54 soldiers in Syria in February, including the 36 killed Thursday in a single airstrike.

In Moscow Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would meet Thursday with President Vladimir Putin in the Russian capital.

Erdoğan said he hoped to broker a cease-fire in Idlib when he sees Putin to “prevent further bloodshed.” He did not elaborate.

Syria’s foreign ministry vowed that Damascus would “firmly repel Turkey’s flagrant aggression” against the country and stop Ankara’s intervention in Syria.

Early on Monday Syrian government forces and their allies retook the key northwestern town of Saraqeb days after losing it to rebel forces, pro-government media and an opposition war monitor said.

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