Turkey calls on Syrian government to halt attacks on Idlib

Turkey has appealed to the Syrian government to halt attacks in Idlib province after its call to Russia on Thursday to do the same, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.

For several weeks, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and his ally, Russia, have been bombing Idlib province, which became the last stop for the rebels, their families, and other anti-Assad activists and civilians.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the Syrian government to halt its attacks in northwestern Syria during a visit to Turkey’s border with Syria, where he inspected troops together with their fellow top military commanders.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed on a cease-fire treaty – called the ‘Astana Process’ – to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression would be expressly prohibited. The recent fierce combat is the most challenging threat to the cease-fire agreement.

“The Syrian regime must end attacks south of Idlib and withdraw to the boundaries delineated under the Astana Process,” Akar said.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to halt the air strikes by the Syrian regime and its military allies, which have killed at least 108 civilians since April 26, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Early on Friday, the Russian minister announced that the air strikes had ended, unnamed sources told AA.

Over the past two weeks, more than 200 air strikes and artillery bombardments have been executed in Idlib, marking the worst escalation in violence since the Turkish-Russian de-escalation agreement was announced eight months ago.

The United Nations (UN) called for an urgent de-escalation and re-commitment to the cease-fire agreement as the attacks have been the most severe over the past 15 months.

Since late April, the air strikes have targeted rebel-held Idlib and Hama provinces. The regime forces have also seized six towns in the region from the rebels.

The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a charity that supports doctors in rebel-held areas, called on the UN to take proactive steps to de-escalate the situation in Idlib, and warned of an “apocalypse in Syria” if the attacks were allowed to continue, saying more than 150,000 Syrians in Idlib had been displaced in the past week.

Turkey has been supporting a conglomeration of anti-Assad rebels throughout the eight-year Syrian war.

Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group that has consistently refused to listen to Turkey and has taken over the province from the rebels backed by Ankara, controls Idlib.

According to Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, even if it tries, Turkey can do little as it has limited clout with both the Russians and the former al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS.

Another expert claimed that Turkey’s inaction is in fact strategic.

“Turkey is calculating that the Russian and Assad campaign can actually play to its advantage by knocking the rebels down to size, and making them even more dependent on Turkey to prevent a ground invasion of Idlib,” Nicholas A Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told Al Jazeera.

Abdul Hamza, a father of two girls in Idlib, believes the al-Assad regime will attack Idlib in a few days and said he feels betrayed by Turkey and angry with its reluctance to protect Idlib.

“Turkey is making deals with Russia over our dead bodies. They are silent while the regime and Russia are killing us,” Hamza said.


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