Turkey Summons Russian, Iranian Ambassadors Over Syrian Regime’s Idlib Ceasefire Violations

Turkey has summoned the ambassadors of Russia and Iran to protest the Assad regime’s violations of de-escalation zone borders in Syria’s Idlib in recent days, the Turkish foreign ministry said Tuesday as quoted by Daily Sabah.

According to diplomatic sources, Turkey informed Russia and Iran about its concerns over the Assad regime’s violations of the de-escalation agreement in Idlib. The foreign ministry told Russia’s Ambassador to Ankara Alexei Yerkhov that the violations must end until the “Syrian National Dialogue Congress” is held on January 29.

“Turkey considers the regime attacks as not simple ceasefire violations but as serious violations of the borders agreed upon during the Astana process by the three guarantor countries,” the sources said.

Attacks on the moderate opposition by Syria’s Bashar Assad’s regime forces in Idlib province harm the efforts to reach a political solution, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had said earlier in the day.

“With the excuse of al-Nusra, the regime is targeting the moderate opposition. This damages the process of political resolution. The parties that will convene in Sochi should not do this,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters in Ankara ahead of the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) group meeting in Parliament.

Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Syrian government forces of attacking moderate opposition fighters under the guise of fighting extremists and said the move threatened peace talks scheduled in Russia later this month.

Çavuşoğlu’s comments came a day after Syrian regime forces captured 14 villages as they advanced on the largest moderate opposition-held enclave in the country’s north amid a wave of airstrikes. The troops aim to reach an opposition-held air base in Idlib province and secure the road linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.

As part of the de-escalation zones, agreed in a tripartite consensus between Turkey, Russia, and Iran, Turkish forces are also currently in Syria’s Idlib province, which is also bordering the YPG-held Afrin region, monitoring the process in the military posts set up in the province.

The advancement of the regime forces may also lead to nearing of the Syrian troops with the monitoring of the Turkish forces. How far the regime forces will advance and how the interaction between Turkish forces, backing the moderate opposition, will be, also remains as an unanswered question at the moment.

Turkey, a supporter of the rebels, has deployed military observers in Idlib as part of a de-escalation deal with Iran and Russia but that has not stopped fighting on the ground or Russian airstrikes. In the past two months a Russian air offensive has helped capture 80 towns and villages in the nearby Hama province and breached Idlib for the first time since mid-2015. Syrian regime forces captured 14 villages on Monday as part of an offensive on the largest rebel-held enclave.

Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, numerous diplomatic attempts to halt the conflict have stumbled, mainly over the future of President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey, Russia and Iran have taken the lead in Syria peace efforts. Moscow has spearheaded the talks in Astana over the last year as it tries to turn its game-changing military intervention into a negotiated settlement.

Despite backing opposing sides, relations between Moscow and Ankara have warmed since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army. The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.