Erdogan says to discuss Syria flashpoints with Putin

Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he would discuss Syria conflict flashpoints, in particular the situation in Daraa in the south and Idlib to the north, with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in South Africa this week.

Syrian government forces launched an offensive last month backed by Russian planes to retake Daraa province in the south while the northwestern province of Idlib remains under jihadist and rebel control but at risk of a regime assault.

The Kremlin said Erdogan was due to meet Putin on Thursday on the sidelines of the annual BRICS summit of leading emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa which the Turkish leader is also attending.

“There is the issue of Daraa, the most problematic. We will put this issue on our agenda again,” Erdogan told reporters at Ankara airport before he boarded the plane for Johannesburg, adding that Idlib would also be discussed.

“Because anything can happen in these places at any moment.”

Although Russia provides military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey still calls for his ouster, Moscow and Ankara have been working closely on finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict.

Alongside Iran, Russia and Turkey have held talks under the Astana peace process launched last year and agreed to create four “de-escalation” zones to pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire. One of the zones is Idlib.

The war has killed more than 350,000 people since it began in 2011 with a brutal government crackdown on protesters.

Turkey launched a military operation in northern Syria against the Islamic State extremist group in 2016, retaking areas such as Al-Bab and Jarabulus.

Then in January this year, Turkish forces supporting Syrian rebels launched an offensive against the western enclave of Afrin, held by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia. Afrin was captured in March.

Ankara says the YPG is linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.

“The developments in Syria — whether Tal Rifaat or Manbij — are not yet going in the desired direction,” Erdogan said, without giving details.

Manbij was held by the YPG but its fighters are now said to have withdrawn to avoid clashes with Turkey. Ankara was also troubled by the situation in the Syrian city of Tal Rifaat but Russia provided assurances the YPG were no longer present.

Agence France-Presse