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10,000 Members Of Jabhat al-Nusra, Other Al-Qaeda-Linked Groups Remain In Syria’s Idlib

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10,000 Members Of Jabhat al-Nusra, Other Al-Qaeda-Linked Groups Remain In Syria's Idlib

Turkish forces are seen in a convoy on a main highway between Damascus and Aleppo on August 29, 2018. (AFP)

On August 30th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey, Russia and Iran are working together to avoid a “disaster” in Idlib. As reported by PressTV this came as the Syrian Army is preparing for a “decisive battle” to drive militants out of the northern province of Idlib.

“We are carrying out work together with the Russians and the Iranians to prevent the catastrophe which took place in Aleppo from repeating in Idlib. We are also engaged in talks with the US [authorities], we are looking for ways to clear Manbij of terrorists,” Erdogan said during his speech in Ankara, cited by Sputnik.

Idlib shares borders with Turkey and is currently under the control of various militant groups. Erdogan is attempting to stave off the offensive while the Syrian army prepares to retake the region. As reported by Sputnik: “Idlib is one of the Syrian areas where terrorists and militants, particularly those who are part of the Jabhat Nusra terror group or affiliated with it, are still active. Moreover, thousands of militants have been transported to the province from other Syrian regions under deals with Damascus.”

The confirmation that Russia, Iran and Turkey are working together for a solution, as reported by PressTV, is a U-turn in the face of Syria’s insistence on that the operation will happen despite threats of a possible US, UK and French attack.

As reported by PressTV, Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to hold a trilateral meeting on Syria in Iran on September 7th.

Also, on August 30th, Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s Special envoy to Syria, said the United Nations estimates that around 10,000 Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda terrorists remain in northern Idlib province and need to be defeated. He also admitted that the militants may use chemical weapons during the Syrian army’s upcoming operation in Idlib, putting in danger the lives of three million people who live there.

“Russia, Iran, and Turkey should take more time to try to avert massive military escalation in Idlib,” U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Earlier on the same day, RIA cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov who said that Russia was discussing the situation in Syria with Iran and Turkey, as well as the Syrian government and opposition on August 29th. A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Bogdanov had discussed options for a peace settlement in Syria with Syrian opposition leader Nasra al-Hariri.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference on August 29th that there is “full political understanding” between Russia and Turkey on the need to distinguish between the Syrian opposition and people he described as “terrorists” in Idlib province.

On August 30th, Anadolu Agency cited an unnamed Turkish ministerial source said the Turkish defense minister and his Russian counterpart have discussed regional security over the phone. Turkey’s Hulusi Akar and Russia’s Sergey Shoygu also discussed latest developments in Syria. The ministers also spoke of bilateral cooperation. Later in the day, Akar described his talks with Shoygu as “constructive.”

“We had constructive and positive exchange of views. We shared our views on various subjects, including Idlib,” Akar said.

In regard to the US, Russia’s Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said on August 30th that he had told US officials earlier this week that Moscow is concerned over signs that the US is preparing new strikes on Syria and warned against “groundless and illegal aggression against Syria.”

EU foreign ministers, after three hour talks on August 30th also agreed that that the escalation of situation in Syria’s Idlib should be avoided at all costs, according an unnamed source familiar with the content of the consultations was cited by Sputnik. The source also added that EU Foreign Police Chief Federica Mogherini might articulate the EU’s position on August 31st.

As reported by PressTV, Turkey reportedly held last-ditch talks with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants (also known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham). “The negotiations between Turkey and HTS are still under way,” the head of the so-called Syria Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman said on August 30th. According to the outlet, “Turkey actively sponsors militant forces in Idlib in the “de-escalation” area of the city and recently spearheaded the formation of the so-called National Front for Liberation, a coalition of over a dozen armed factions.”

Regarding the matter, Russian Foreign Ministery Sergei Lavrov said “It is unacceptable that those terrorists particularly al-Nusra Front are using the de-escalation area of Idlib to attack the Syrian army and to also attack through drones the Russian military bases in the area.”

“What we need to do now is to wipe out those terrorist groups which persist, particularly within the de-escalation area of Idlib,” Lavrov added.

Relations between Russia and Turkey appear to remain relatively strong amid the diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington. Turkey finalized a deal to purchase S-400 Triumf defense systems, as well as they appear to be standing on the same side in Syria. Turkish President Erdogan has several times warned that if the US does not stop attempting to pressure Turkey, the country will look for allies elsewhere, which appears to be happening. US and Turkey relations have been deteriorating for months, due to disagreements in Syria, US concerns over the purchase of the S-400 Triumf systems and the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

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