German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, as part of a visit to the capital Ankara – aimed at improving badly frayed relations between the two countries. Ankara and Berlin’s main fear of an imminent offensive by the Assad regime pertains to the possible humanitarian ramifications of such an offensive – as according to the United Nations, Idlib houses more than 700,000 civilians, many of whom are expected to flee the territory into neighboring Turkey, and from there into Europe.
“We too share the concern of the possibly incalculable humanitarian consequences of an offensive in Idlib. We will continue everything we can in order to prevent a further escalation. We will continue our talks and support our Turkish partners in their efforts in Tehran this week,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
The Turkish top diplomat noted that while it was certain that the Assad regime would attack the Idlib province, Ankara was pursuing a diplomatic route with President Bashar al-Assad’s guarantors, including Russia and Iran, at a planned summit in Tehran – scheduled for tomorrow. “It’s obvious that Syrian regime wants to attack Idlib and seize it, but Syrian regime has guarantors: Russia and Iran. Therefore we continue to hold talks with Russia and Iran,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
When asked about the fact that the militias operating in Syria’s Idlib have strong ties with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Turkish top diplomat stressed that the indiscriminate bombings of the territory was “not the right thing to do.”
“Joint work can be done to eliminate these (radical) groups but the solution is definitely not to bomb Idlib in its entirety without making any distinctions. Particularly within the framework of Sochi and Astana agreements, we think this is not the right thing to do, ahead of the summit in Tehran. If the aim is to heap pressure with these attacks, this is also wrong,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
Meanwhile, Russia has apparently decided to make a clear statement of support for the Assad regime, in defiance of Turkey and the West. Russia’s Defense Ministry published several videos of air strikes on what it said were terrorist locations in Idlib Province on Tuesday. The bombing marks the start of a massive aerial campaign by Russia and Syria, against the last remaining major rebel stronghold. For President Bashar al-Assad, the defeat of Islamist-rebel groups in the northwestern province would mean breaking the last major stronghold of active military opposition to his rule, even though other large areas also remain beyond his control.