On September 11th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Russia and Iran that an attack by Syrian government forces and their allies on Idlib Province, the last militant stronghold in country, would result in a “massacre,” according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
“Any attack launched or to be launched on Idlib will result in a disaster, a massacre, and a very big humanitarian tragedy,” said Erdogan. “We never want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath.”
“If we can announce a cease-fire today here, I believe this will be one of the most important steps of this summit,” he said. “This will bring comfort to civilians. I think making such an announcement will be a victory for this summit.”
In the article in the WSJ he also warned that “the entire world stands to pay the price” in the case of an attack. Erdogan failed to secure a pledge for a cease-fire from Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backers, at a trilateral summit in Tehran.
Sputnik cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who on September 9th said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to maintain their dialogue focusing on the conflict in Syria and the situation in the country’s Idlib de-escalation zone, following the Russia-Turkey-Iran summit in Tehran.
“All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense,” Erdogan said in the article reported by the WSJ. “A regime assault would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond,” he continued.
At the summit in Tehran, Erdogan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani agreed in a statement that there could be no military solution to the conflict and it could only end through a negotiated political process.
Erdogan’s calls for truce in idlib had been called pointless by Putin, as it would not involve al-Qaeda and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which are considered terrorist by Russia. Instead, Putin said, he and Erdogan and Rohani discussed a “phased stabilization” in Idlib that could involve peace agreements with government opponents who are “ready for dialogue.”
Rouhani said that the fight in Syria should continue until all extremists are “uprooted,” especially in Idlib, but that the battle there should not harm civilians.
The joint statement from the summit from Russia, Turkey and Iran said that the countries agreed to seek ways to resolve the situation in the province and provided little detail.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, said the world is looking to Russia, Turkey, and Iran to find a “soft solution to the crisis.”
Following the summit, on September 10th, Yeni Safak reported that Turkey has speeded up its military precautions in Syria’s Idlib and gave instructions to the 50,000 Syrian opposition militants to be on high alert for the additional military deployments as the tensions escalates in the region. According to numbers cited by the outlet, the number of Turkish soldiers dispatched to northern Syria exceeded 30,000 in the areas within the scope of the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations and Idlib.
Turkish forces are present at the 12 observation points from Idlib’s north to south, which are currently being fortified with cement walls and bulletproof watch towers against a Syrian attack.
Yeni Safak also cited Erdoğan who also said the U.S., which is focused on chemical attacks by the Assad regime, needed to “reject its arbitrary hierarchy of death”.
On the same day, the WSJ reported that the US Defense Department may be mulling the idea of striking Russian or Iranian military forces aiding the Syrian government if they were to launch an assault on Idlib. The report added that the United States would specifically decide whether to strike Russian air defense installations.
Pentagon spokesperson Commander Sean Robertson was quoted by Sputnik saying that the US is prepared to action in response to any alleged chemical weapons use in Idlib. He did not, however, confirm any media reports about strikes on Russian and Iranian targets. “Syria, Russia and Iran should know that the United States and the rest of the world are watching very closely and will take appropriate action if there is a new slaughter in Idlib,” he said.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton said earlier on September 10th that the United States, Britain and France have agreed that any use of chemical weapons by the government of Syria would result in a much stronger response than in previous incidents.
As reported by Reuters, both Turkey and the United Nations have previously warned of a massacre and humanitarian catastrophe involving tens of thousands of civilians in the event of a full-scale offensive.