Turkey’s president has said that his country does not want a bloodbath in Idlib province and a ceasefire would be an important step amid looming Russian-backed Syrian offensive in the last rebel-held area.
Speaking at a three-way summit in Tehran with his Iranian and Russian counterparts – both major allies of the Syrian government – Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed that an attack on Idlib would result in a massacre and a disaster.
“If we can ensure a ceasefire here, this will be one of the most important steps of the summit, it will seriously put civilians at ease,” he said.
“We need to find a rational solution in Idlib that will address everyone’s concerns.”
The northwest province of Idlib borders Turkey, which has closed its borders after taking in more than three million Syrian refugees. Ankara, which has the most to lose should an offensive take place, has been trying to negotiate with opposition armed groups, including al-Qaeda-linked Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham.
“A decision on Idlib will shape the region and you must appreciate our position as we begin to help our Syrian brothers,” Erdogan said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin however, said that he was against a ceasefire because Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters located there were not part of peace talks.
Putin said the Syrian government should regain control over all of its territory.
Speaking from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin were “speaking from both sides of their mouths” during their opening statements.
“The comments made by Putin and Rouhani made it very clear that they were looking forward to shape Syria’s future and they can do it without the intervention of western powers,” Basravi said.
“But at the same time they made it clear that rebuilding Syria and getting refugees back to Syria has to be an international effort.”
‘Fighting for peace’
President Rouhani made it clear that the integrity of Syria, as represented by the “legitimate” government of President Bashar al-Assad, should be respected, and that Idlib was a “hotbed for terrorism”.
“To fight terrorism in Idlib is inevitable and part of a mission to bring about peace and stability to Syria,” he said.
“We are fighting for peace. Our final goal whether in Syria or in the region is peace but in order to have sustainable peace we have to fight terror decisively.”
Rouhani also said that the intervention of the United States should end, and that any interference without the cooperation with Assad government will “cause this crisis to become deeper”.
His statement was in response to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who had warned on Thursday that Assad and his allies from using chemical weapons.
“In the past 18 months I have stood on this floor twice, promising that the United States would respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” she said. “Both times, this administration has followed through.”
“We want to take this opportunity to remind Assad and his Russian and Iranian partners: You don’t want to bet against the United States’ responding again.”