Talks between Turkey and Russia over the conflict in Syria’s Idlib province have broken down as Ankara said it was only a “matter of time” before it launched a military offensive.
The two countries back opposing sides in the nine-year Syria conflict, but had promised to try to find a political solution to end it.
However, 13 Turkish troops were killed during a Syrian government offensive in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, which borders Turkey, toppling the fragile balance.
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Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said no agreement had been reached on Wednesday but the Syrian government, which Moscow supports, is upholding previous agreements and also reacting to provocations.
He said militant attacks on Syrian and Russian forces are continuing in Idlib where almost a million civilians have been driven from their homes since December in Syria’s largest single displacement in the conflict.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his ruling AK Party the talks were unsatisfactory and “the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time”.
He said Turkey, which supports several Syrian opposition groups, was determined to make Idlib a secure zone “no matter the cost”.
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“We are entering the last days for the (Syrian) regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” Mr Erdogan said.
“We did not reach the desired results in our talks. The talks will continue, but it is true that we are far from meeting our demands at the table.
“Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”
Image: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an offensive on Idlib ‘is only a matter of time’
Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib which allowed both sides to set up military observation posts.
Since violence escalated in the region, both sides have engaged in a tit-for-tat over who is flouting the agreement.
Several rounds of talks have been held but failed to find a solution.
Mr Erdogan said Turkey has given the Russian-backed Syrian forces until the end of February to withdraw from Idlib.
Image: Millions of people have been displaced in Syria, where winters can be harsh
“We will not leave Idlib to the (Syrian) regime, which does not understand our country’s determination, and to those encouraging it,” he said.
The UN has said a full-scale battle for Idlib could result in a “bloodbath”.
Image: A Turkish soldier patrols the countryside in Syria’s Aleppo province
Over the past few years the province’s population has doubled to about three million, including one million children.
Several warring rebel factions control Idlib, with the dominant force the al Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance, Hayat Tahrir al Sham.
The group had between 12,000 and 15,000 fighters in Idlib and surrounding areas in January, the UN estimated.
Source : Sky News