Russia should act against attacks by the Bashar Assad regime on civilian areas in northwestern Syria's Idlib to maintain bilateral deals, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday.
"We have waited with patience until now. Lastly, there has been shelling from Aleppo to our side. Our officials told their Russian interlocutors that either they make these bombardments stop or we will continue with our own way," Erdoğan told journalists accompanying him on the return from his three-country visit in Africa.
Ankara has previously pushed for a diplomatic solution on Idlib bilaterally with Russia, resulting in the Sochi deal struck in September 2018, and trilaterally with Russia and Iran with the Astana agreement struck the following year. However, despite these deals, the regime – together with Russia – has continued a brutal offensive on Idlib in recent months, which by December had displaced around 358,000 people according to U.N. figures. Turkey, already the host to nearly 4 million refugees, has announced that it would not allow fresh waves of refugees to arrive from northern Syria. Despite the warnings, however, the offensive continues, as regime forces Tuesday entered Maarat al-Numan, a town with symbolic and strategic importance. In light of the latest developments, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Turkey would not hesitate to retaliate if its observation points were threatened as Syrian regime forces advance through Idlib.
"Russia will continue the process differently, either with the regime or with Turkey. Russia tells us they fight against terrorism. Who are terrorists? The people fighting to defend their own lands?" the president added.
In areas north of Maaret al-Numan, bombardments by regime ally Russia have prompted a fresh wave of refugees to emerge in recent days, with hundreds of vehicles packing a key exit route toward areas near the border with Turkey, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Most have fled the town of Saraqib and the Jabal al-Zawiya regions, both located north of Maaret al-Numan. Russia has bombed areas around the main exit routes, despite the heavy outflow of civilians, the Observatory added.