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Turkey slams 'unsatisfactory' Russia proposals on Idlib

More than 900,000 have been displaced due to the ongoing violence [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2020

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Turkey and Russia are locked in talks in Moscow, but Ankara has slammed what it called 'unsatisfactory' proposals by the Russians.
Turkey said on Tuesday that Russia had yet to offer an acceptable solution to the worsening violence in northwestern Syria, but added that talks were ongoing.

Syrian forces, backed by Russian air power, have pressed a brutal offensive in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the northwest of the country, displacing some 900,000 people in less than three months.

Turkey and Russia, who back opposing sides, were again locked in talks in Moscow on Tuesday after an earlier round of discussions in Ankara last week failed to produce an agreement.

"For the moment, no satisfying result has obtained from the negotiations," Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters in Ankara.

Kalin rejected claims by Moscow that the offensive was necessary to prevent attacks against a Russian military base in the area.

"These statements do not correspond with the reality on the ground," he said.

Turkey has bolstered its military positions in Idlib in recent weeks and has clashed with Syrian forces.

Ankara backs certain rebel groups in the region, and wants to prevent another wave of refugees adding to the 3.7 million Syrians that it already hosts.

Read also: Syrian displacement - A Palestinian perspective

More than half the displaced in Idlib are children, the UN says, and many are now sleeping rough in harsh winter conditions.

The wave of displacement is the biggest since the start of the civil war nearly nine years ago and the largest exodus of civilians since World War II.

Earlier on Tuesday, Turkey informed Russia that it has completed preparations for a military operation in Idlib province and that troops were on ready to take on Syrian regime forces.

Omer Celik, spokesperson for governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), told Anadolu news agency that unless Moscow's ally, Bashar Al-Assad, withdraws his forces areas recently taken from the opposition in Idlib province, then Turkish troops could take military action in Syria.

"Celik underlined that Russia, an ally of the Syrian regime, was 'clearly' informed about Turkey's stance in the region," the Turkish news agency report.

He said that Turkish officials told Russia that Turkey was ready to take military action if the Syrian regime did not withdraw past boundaries specified in a previous de-escalation deal, likely referring to the 2018 Sochi agreement.

The UN has warned of a humanitarian crisis in Idlib province due to the regime assault and acknowledged that the vast majority of civilians deaths have been caused by regime forces.

Read also: 'Heroic' Syrian dad teaches three-year-old daughter to laugh through traumatising air strikes

"In all, since 1 January this year, during the Syrian government's latest major military offensive to retake key areas in Idlib and Aleppo, we have recorded the deaths of 299 civilians in this region of Syria," Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters on Tuesday.

"Around 93 per cent of those deaths were caused by the Syrian government and its allies."

Whole towns and cities, such as Saraqeb and Maarat Al-Numan, have been emptied in the regime assault.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees - mostly children - have been forced to sleep outdoors in freezing temperatures due to camps being at full capacity.

At least 500,000 people have been killed in the Syria war, the vast majority civilians in regime assaults.

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