The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall a Syrian government offensive in rebel-held Idlib province which the United Nations fears could cause a humanitarian catastrophe involving tens of thousands of civilians.
Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation on Friday called for a political solution to the crisis in Syria in a joint statement issued at the end of a trilateral summit in the Iranian capital Tehran. More broadly, Has observed, "Disagreement over Idlib makes it unlikely that Russian Federation and Turkey can agree on an extended presence of Turkish forces in Afrin, Jarablus and Azaz". The trio is to discuss possible ways to end violence in Syria, which is gearing up to squeeze terrorists from its territory.
Instead, it further highlighted the stark differences between allies of convenience in Syria's 7-year-old war, the topic of a summit that did not see embattled President Bashar Assad directly represented.
Erdogan also said Turkey no longer had the capacity to take in any more refugees from Syria should the government offensive in Idlib go ahead. "It is essential that all parties to the conflict do not attack civilians, grant safe passage to civilians wishing to flee the fighting and attacks, and ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian relief for all civilians in need in Idlib". "Any fight against terrorists requires methods based on time and patience", he added.
"We don't want Idlib to be turned into a bloodbath", he stressed.
Erdogan also sought to use Persian literature to drive home his point in Tehran, quoting the poet Saadi: "If you've no sympathy for human pain, the name of a human you can not retain".
America's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has warned any military offensive in Idlib "would be a reckless escalation".
Northwestern Idlib province and surrounding areas are home to about three million people, almost half of them civilians displaced from other parts of Syria.
OCHA estimates that if the offensive were to take place, 800,000 people would be displaced. Erdogan pledged in June to facilitate the return of refugees.
The Russian government has long called for the 2,000 USA military troops to leave Syria.
"We think it's unacceptable when (someone) is trying to shield the terrorists under the pretext of protecting civilians as well as causing damage to Syrian government troops", Putin said.
Putin offered no evidence to back his claim.
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While Trump has not publicly called for regime change in Syria, Bob Woodward reports in his new book-citing "deep background" interviews with top administration officials-that the president past year ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to "go in" to Syria and "fucking kill" Assad.
The rare show of force in Syria comes months after USA aircraft -including AC-130 gunships, jets and bombers - killed roughly 300 Russian mercenaries near Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria after American special operations forces came under attack.
On Friday morning, Russian air raids pounded rebel positions in the southwest of Idlib killing five people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"We hope that we will be able to reach an agreement and that our call for reconciliation in the Idlib area will be heard", the Russian president said. "I'd like to note here that Syrian armed opposition groups are also joining the anti-terrorist efforts, which I consider to be extremely important", he noted, specifying that this fact helps improve confidence between the Syrian sides.
There was no immediate reaction from fighters in Idlib. Naji al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation, said before the summit that his forces were prepared for a battle that they expect will spark a major humanitarian crisis.
"Idlib is about a lot of worldwide power play and everyone is looking after their interests", al-Mustafa said.
Faysal al-Antar, a member of the local council in Kfar Zita, one of the towns on the southern edge of Idlib that was hit in the airstrikes, said warplanes were flying as the leaders convened Friday in Tehran.
During the Friday meeting, Rouhani said Tehran and Moscow must tap the new opportunities for expansion of cooperation and development of multilateralism.
"The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year", James Jeffrey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's representative for Syria engagement, told the Washington Post on Thursday.
"The regime might conduct a face-saving attack on areas away from Turkey's zones of operation, a low-hanging fruit", he said. Asked whether Trump had signed off on what he called "a more active approach", Jeffrey said, "I am confident the president is on board with this".
The United Nations and Western countries have blamed Assad's forces for chemical weapons attacks during the country's civil war, something denied by Russian Federation and Syria.
"If Assad, Russia and Iran continue, the consequences will be dire", she said.