In a summit that could possibly play a pivotal role in determining the future course of the violent Syrian conflict that has been raging on for seven years, Russian President Vladimir Putin convened a meeting with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts- Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Friday. Both Erdogan and Rouhani condemned the alleged US support to rebel groups battling President Bashar al Assad’s regime in a conflict that has claimed the lives of at least 5,00,000 people and displaced millions of Syrians, triggering a much larger migrant crisis impacting European nations across the Mediterranean.
“The illegal presence and interference of America in Syria which has led to the continuation of insecurity in that country, must end quickly,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by AP. Rouhani’s criticism of the United States was echoed by Turkish President Erdogan who stated that Turkey is ‘deeply annoyed by US supporting a terrorist organisation in Syria’.
The leaders are set to plan the looming military assault on Idlib in northwestern Syria, the last major bastion of active rebels to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The three countries, serving as crucial allies to Assad’s regime have jointly agreed to explore options to resolve the situation in Idlib, Reuters reported. The next round of Syria talks between the three countries’ leaders is scheduled to be held in Russia, the joint statement was quoted as stating.
Rouhani also stated that the battle in Syria will prevail until militants are pushed out of the entire country, especially in Idlib, but also underlined that any military operation should avoid civilians casualties.
“The fires of war and bloodshed in Syria are reaching their end,” Rouhani said, while adding that terrorism must “be uprooted in Syria, particularly in Idlib,” Rouhani was quoted as saying.
For Russia and Iran- who have both been allies of the Syrian government ever since the war broke out in Syria during the Arab Spring – reclaiming Idlib is vital to complete what they perceive as a military victory in Syrian conflict after Syrian troops recaptured nearly all other prominent areas, largely quelling the rebellion against Assad.
Turkey calls for ceasefire; Putin, Rouhani disagree
While Turkish leader Erdogan proposed a ceasefire in the rebel-dominated bastion of Idlib in northwestern parts of Syria, President Putin affirmed that Russia opposes the call for any truce with the rebels in the hope that the rebels opposing Assad’s rule ‘would have the common sense to lay down their weapons and surrender’.
The Russian President emphasised that the numerous civilians living in Idlib province must be taken into account before executing any plan to bring about a solution to the conflict.
Erdogan, who called for the ceasefire, expressed his apprehensions that an all-out assault on the insurgents could possibly result in a massacre. Putin’s opposition to Erdogan was reflected by Iranian President Rouhani, who underlined that the government forces must regain control over entire Syrian territory.
The Turkish leader put forth his views, stating that the continuation of attacks on Idlib might lead to a collapse of the ongoing political process in Syria.
Idlib offensive: Pivotal battle with risks of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’
Bordering Turkey, rebel-held Idlib governorate is one of the fourteen provinces of the conflict-stricken country. It is officially the last bastion that remains dominated by the rebels and a military campaign to flush out the last remaining rebels is widely being perceived to result in heavy losses, with United Nations warning that a full-scale assault might potentially result in a humanitarian catastrophe.
As the long-fought Syrian war gradually approaches its ultimate conclusion, Iran, Turkey and Russia seek to guarantee the elimination of militants waging a rebellion against Assad’s rule.
“The fight against terrorism in Idlib is an indispensable part of the mission to return peace and stability to Syria, but this fight should not harm civilians and lead to a “scorched-earth” policy,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Turkey anticipates refugee inflow, dismisses affordability
Meanwhile, the Turkish President clarified that his country is no more in a condition to receive any further inflow of refugees from Syria. It is reported that Turkey has taken in at least 3,050,000 refugees who fled from the brutal war that ravaged their country since 2011. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 8,00,000 civilians will be left displaced if the offensive on Idlib is launched.
“Whatever reason there is an attack that has been made or will be made will result in disaster, massacre and humanitarian drama,” Erdogan was quoted as saying by Reuters. “Millions will be coming to Turkey’s borders because they have nowhere to go. Turkey has filled its capacity to host refugees,” he added.
(With Inputs from Reuters, Associated Press)