ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday he told his Russian counterpart that attacks in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region must stop immediately and that a lasting ceasefire had to be achieved there.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference in Tirana, Albania, February 12, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
Turkey and Russia have collaborated on a political solution to the Syrian conflict but back opposing sides, and a Syrian government offensive in Idlib has raised tensions between them.
“We told (Russia on Saturday) …that the aggression in Idlib must stop and that a lasting ceasefire has to be achieved now,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Germany after the Munich Security Conference.
Turkish and Russian officials will discuss the issue in Moscow on Monday, he added.
Russia supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey backs Syrian rebels looking to oust him in the nearly nine-year war.
The Russian-backed offensive marks a major strategic accomplishment for Assad, having driven insurgents from the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus to reopen the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years.
Recently, Syrian forces have turned their focus to an area northwest of Aleppo where they are trying to seize more ground to push rebels away from the city. Russian warplanes mounted heavy air strikes in the area on Sunday, bombing towns including Anadan, activists reported.
A suicide bomber with the main insurgent group in the area, the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham faction, blew himself up in an attack on Russian positions in the town of Kafr Aleppo, the Ibaa news outlet affiliated with the group reported.
In a meeting with Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Assad said “the Syrian nation was determined to liberate all Syrian land from terrorism”, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his military will drive back Syrian forces if they do not withdraw out of Idlib by the end of the month. On Saturday, he appeared to pull that date forward, saying Turkey would “handle it” before the end of the months if there was no pullback.
Cavusoglu also said he met with some U.S. lawmakers at the conference, saying Washington should work to improve its relations with Ankara anyway, not just due to current tensions between Turkey and Russia.
“We told them that we expected a sincere approach from the United States in line with our spirit of alliance,” he said.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Tom Perry; Editing by Susan Fenton and John Stonestreet