Turkey, Rus­sia to dis­cuss grave sit­u­a­tion in Syria’s Idlib prov­ince

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Geir Moul­son

MU­NICH >> A Turk­ish del­e­ga­tion will travel to Rus­sia on Mon­day to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in Syria’s Idlib prov­ince amid mount­ing fears of a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter there, Turkey’s for­eign min­is­ter said.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians in Idlib prov­ince are scram­bling to es­cape a widen­ing, multi-front of­fen­sive by Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s forces.

“What mat­ters is to­day around 1 mil­lion peo­ple from Idlib have been mov­ing to­wards our bor­der,” Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said in a state­ment Satur­day af­ter a phone call with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in which they dis­cussed Syria and other top­ics. “We are al­ready host­ing 3.5-4 mil­lion peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately we are not in a po­si­tion of ac­cept­ing this an­other 1 mil­lion.”

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said af­ter meet­ing his Ger­man coun­ter­part on the side­lines of the Mu­nich Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence that 2 mil­lion peo­ple could head for Turkey’s bor­der with Syria if no cease­fire is achieved.

He said a Turk­ish del­e­ga­tion was due to visit Moscow on Mon­day to talk dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in Idlib, much of which re­mains in rebel hands. The meet­ing fol­lows previous vis­its by a Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion to Ankara. Rus­sia sup­ports As­sad, while Turkey backs the op­po­si­tion.

“There are al­ready peo­ple com­ing to our bor­der and, with Ger­many’s sup­port, we are go­ing to build tem­po­rary shel­ters but these are tem­po­rary so­lu­tions,” Cavu­soglu said. “We need a cease-fire.”

Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Heiko Maas said he pushed Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, who was also in Mu­nich, for Rus­sia to lean on As­sad’s gov­ern­ment to stop the fight­ing.

“We are very wor­ried that this is go­ing be­come a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe if the fight­ing there doesn’t stop,” he said.

Cavu­soglu said later Satur­day he held a pos­i­tive meet­ing with Lavrov.

The Rus­sian for­eign min­is­ter told the Mu­nich con­fer­ence af­ter that meet­ing that parts of Idlib re­main “one of the last hot­beds of ter­ror­ism, at least the only one on the west bank of the Euphrates.”

Lavrov said that agree­ments be­tween Moscow and Ankara “im­ply both a cease­fire and a de­mil­i­ta­rized zone, but most im­por­tantly draw­ing a line be­tween the nor­mal op­po­si­tion and ter­ror­ists.”

“These agree­ments do not mean the hard fight­ing against the ter­ror­ist the threat will stop,” he said.

Ken­neth Roth, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch, said at a news con­fer­ence that Rus­sia is the key to stop­ping the cri­sis since it pro­vides the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment with aerial sup­port.

“Rus­sia of­fers var­i­ous ex­cuses,” he said.

Roth ac­knowl­edged the pres­ence of thou­sands of ji­hadists in Idlib but said “that does not jus­tify the in­dis­crim­i­nate bom­bard­ment of the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion.”

“What is needed now as a mat­ter of hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cern for the peo­ple of Idlib and as a mat­ter of ba­sic avoid­ance of an­other refugee cri­sis, is firm pres­sure on (Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir) Putin to stop,” he said. He urged Europe to ex­ert that pres­sure.


Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Heiko Maas, right, meets with Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu dur­ing the Mu­nich Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence in Mu­nich, Ger­many, Satur­day.

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