A Russian official said on Tuesday that an offensive to eliminate opposition groups from northern Syria's Idlib is not on the table. The announcement came after Turkey had expressed its concerns of a new refugee wave and more disarray in the region. "There's currently no question and can be no question of an operation, of a major assault on Idlib," said Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia's Syria envoy. He was talking to Russian agencies following a meeting in Sochi on Syria, ahead of a 10th round of Syria peace talks in Astana. The meeting was held with the participation of Turkey, Iran and Russia, the three guarantor states of the Astana talks that aim to find a permanent peace deal to the Syrian civil war, as well as representatives of the Syrian opposition and the Bashar Assad regime.
Idlib is one of the de-escalation areas designated in the Astana talks and has been turned into a shelter for opposition fighters and their families who were evacuated from different parts of the war-torn country.
In an interview with the Russian TASS news agency on June 27, Bashar Assad said that Idlib is one of the top priorities of the regime forces, which recently regained control of swathes of territories in the country. Last week, regime forces reportedly scaled up their military presence around Idlib with a large amount of new deployments.
After the new deployments and threatening rhetoric, Ankara had warned the Assad regime and its allies to refrain from a possible offensive in the province.
On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking to reporters in Johannesburg after the BRICS summit in South Africa, said that he personally asked Vladimir Putin to take the necessary precautions against possible regime attacks on Idlib.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had established 12 observation posts to maintain stability in the opposition town.
Lavrantiev said that the presence of Turkish forces at the control points on regional borders ensures security.
"We still hope that the moderate opposition and our Turkish partners, who took responsibility for stabilizing this region, will manage it," the Russian diplomat said.
Idlib has a population of approximately 2.5 million, and substantial part of it consists of refugees came from different parts of the country.
In June, the United Nations said that a possible offensive by the Assad regime may result of displacement of more than two million civilians, adding that only route for those people would be Turkey.
During meetings in Sochi, Idlib was reportedly the top issue, but also, representatives of guarantor states discussed the return of externally displaced Syrians, forming a new constitution and the exchange of prisoners from both sides.
Participants were quoted as saying that the three countries agreed on Monday to mutually release a limited number of detainees as part of confidence-building measures.