Turkey expects Russia to uphold its responsibilities in the Idlib deal, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Tuesday, underlining that Turkey has been abiding by the principles of the agreement.
"We hope that with the meeting our president will have with Mr. Putin, a return to peace will be possible as at the beginning of the memorandum of understanding," he said as attacks on the last opposition bastion continue to increase.
Speaking to journalists, Akar commented on the attacks on Idlib saying: “They (Russia) say that they carry out these attacks against ‘terrorist groups there.’ However, among those that lost their lives or run from these attacks are no terrorists. We have been trying to explain this for months.”
He added that he might hold talks with his Russian counterpart.
Akar underlined that communication channels between Turkey and Russia are open and that Turkish soldiers in the field can hold meetings with Russian generals.
He also noted that the participation of all groups who have a say in the future of Syria in the constitution-making process under the coordination of the U.N. and holding elections with the participation of all actors are some of the main things that Turkey has been stressing since the beginning.
He also spoke on attempts by the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian wing, the YPG, to infiltrate despite an agreement with Russia in the Operation Peace Spring area.
“We had agreed that the terrorists there must withdraw however, their presence there continues. This is an issue in which we are right,” Akar said, indicating that Turkey is in talks with the U.S. and Russia in this regard, while Ankara also takes its own precautions and hinders terrorist attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will discuss the issue of Idlib in their upcoming meeting Wednesday in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Russia is the main ally of the Syrian regime, while Turkey supports groups that have fought to unseat Bashar Assad. However, Russian and Turkish troops have cooperated in Idlib, the final holdout of opposition forces, and in seeking a political solution in the war-torn country.
Despite backing opposing sides in both the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, Turkey and Russia have forged close cooperation in the defense, energy and tourism sectors.
NATO member Turkey has bought Russian S-400 air defenses – leading to U.S. sanctions on Turkish defense industries – and has been in talks with Russia over possibly buying a second batch.
Ankara and Moscow were rivals in Nagorno-Karabakh during fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces last year. Russia eventually brokered a cease-fire between Turkey-backed Azerbaijan and Armenia, and is working with Ankara to monitor it.
Russia joined Syria’s now 10-year conflict in September 2015, when the regime military appeared close to collapse. Moscow has since helped in tipping the balance of power in favor of Assad, whose forces now control much of the country. Hundreds of Russian troops are deployed across Syria, and they also have a military air base along Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
During the past few years, Russian warplanes targeted the areas under the control of the Syrian opposition, initially launching attacks from Hmeimim Air Base in the west of the country.
Human rights organizations have published several reports accusing Russia of the death of tens of thousands of civilians in Syria since its intervention in 2015, while the international community has taken some actions against the Russia-backed Assad regime’s war crimes.
Furthermore, Putin and Assad recently met in Moscow to discuss the cooperation between their armies and how to continue operations to gain control of the last opposition-held areas in Syria. Putin blasted the presence of “foreign forces" in parts of Syria – an apparent reference to hundreds of U.S. troops who are in eastern Syria working with YPG/PKK terrorists, as well as Turkish troops in northern Syria. Putin said the presence of the foreigners is illegal because they have no approval by the U.N. or the Assad regime.
The Idlib region is home to nearly 3 million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country.
Nearly 75% of the total population in the opposition-held Idlib region depends on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs as 1.6 million people continue to live in camps or informal settlements, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
For years, the Assad regime has ignored the needs and safety of the Syrian people, only eyeing further gains of territory and crushing the opposition. With this aim, the regime has for years bombed civilian facilities such as schools, hospitals and residential areas, causing the displacement of almost half of the country's population.
The situation of the people in Idlib worsened when the Assad regime, backed by Russia, launched an offensive on the province, causing the largest one-time displacement in the history of the Syrian civil war and a huge humanitarian tragedy, according to the U.N.
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