Russia says will keep bombing Syrias Idlib if need be: Ifax

Russia says will keep bombing Syria\s Idlib if need be: Ifax

The Latest: Kremlin says Putin could meet Erdogan next week

Troops and tanks amassing along the border with Syria in anticipation of a major offensive and ensuing refugee crisis.

Antakya, Turkey – Turkey continued to deploy troops and heavy weaponry to its southwestern border with Syria in anticipation of a major offensive by the Syrian government and its allies on opposition-held territory.

On Sept. 10 and 11, deputy foreign ministers from the Astana trio (Russia, Iran and Turkey) met in Geneva to consult with the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The discussions helped achieve a breakthrough on the issue of Syrian Constitutional Committee — one of the most critical items on the agenda of political resolution and peacemaking in Syria. The diplomats managed to agree upon the lists of committee members from the government and the opposition and to design a plan to create a third list composed of representatives of Syrian civil society. The lists are supposed to include 150 people altogether.Alexander Lavrentiev, Putin’s special envoy for Syria who led the Russian delegation at the consultations, said the government and opposition lists will have to be approved by all sides after the civil society list is discussed further. Lavrentiev said this still was a “fragile mechanism” and one cannot “upset the balance,” meaning attempts to turn the civil society list into an extension of the government would be unacceptable.

A Turkish military convoy arrived at a Turkish outpost near the town of Morek, in Syrias northern Hama province, early on Thursday.

The format of the committee’s future work was also outlined during the talks in Geneva. A council of 45 members of the committee will be created specifically to design a new Syrian constitution or amend the existing one. Although the procedure for the formation of the council is not still fully clear, it is known that the body will be selected following the same principles as the committee itself, including having an equal number of representatives of the regime, opposition and civil society. This could be a compromise involving the numbers of people selected to make important decisions: De Mistura had sought to cut the number of committee members from 150 to 40-50 people. It is also unclear who will become the committee’s chairperson. Russia insists on a government official for this position, while Turkey and the opposition rebels disagree.

Al Jazeera also observed the arrival of a military plane that unloaded dozens of Turkish soldiers at the civilian airport in Hatay province, about 50km from the Turkish-Syrian border. It was not immediately clear whether the troops were heading across the border.

It is not impossible, by the way, that the parties might have reached an agreement of some kind before the Geneva encounter, during bilateral Russian-Turkish consultations on Idlib, and that the talks in Geneva merely reflect the earlier agreements. For instance, in the future, Ankara is likely to point out that positive changes in the peace process were made possible only because the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria was kept intact. In return Ankara may prove helpful in re-energizing various “frozen” projects within the peacemaking process that could not be carried out if the fighting ignited. This could be especially valuable for Moscow if such initiatives concerned those initiated and designed by Russia.

Turkey already hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees and is fearful of another major influx if Syrian forces – backed by Russian airpower and allied militias – attack the last remaining stronghold of opposition fighters in Idlib province. 

Any positive shifts in the process of the Constitutional Committee’s creation would have been nearly impossible had the meeting in Geneva been taking place during heavy fighting in Idlib. Moreover, such consultations likely would not have even taken place, considering that Turkey has alluded that it would leave the Astana trio should Idlib be attacked. At first, the opposition had refused to take part in the committee because the decision to establish the body had been made during the congress in Sochi, which took place at the same time Assad’s regime was conducting large-scale operations in the southeastern part of the province, including a mass bombing of civil infrastructure.

According to Metin Gurcan, a Turkish security expert, the border reinforcement was a defensive measure.

“If you look at the types of those weapons systems, I would say they are all for defensive purposes. So I dont think Turkey has offensive intention and capability to militarily intervene in the Idlib conundrum,” he told Al Jazeera.

U.N. shares locations of Idlib hospitals and schools, hoping to protect them

“This is sort of the preventive, defensive military buildup to manage the anticipated refugee flow because of this push of Russia-backed Syrian forces from the south.”

Nearly 40,000 people have already fled Idlib after Syrian-Russian air attacks intensified over the last two weeks. The UN estimates, in a worst-case scenario, about 900,000 civilians could flee Idlib if a full-scale ground offensive begins. 

Therefore, if the military escalation around Idlib gradually decreases, Ankara could possibly continue influencing the Syrian opposition, making it more open to Russian suggestions related to a political resolution. In this way, Turkey could maintain Moscow’s interest in further delaying or even canceling the armed assault on Idlib. This would both help Russian initiatives be successful and counter radicals in Idlib with specific practical measures.

Any operation in Idlib to lead to disaster

This big bird just landed in Hatay and unloaded a few dozen soldiers. #Idlib

Some statements during the consultations in Geneva, however, actually give reason to be optimistic about a further delay in the military campaign of the regime and its allies. It mostly depends on Turkey’s ability to solve the problem of radicals in Idlib on its own, using groups loyal to Ankara as an instrument on the ground.

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Turkish officials have repeatedly warned Russia and the Syrian government against attacking Idlib, saying it would lead to another massive wave of refugees heading towards Turkey.

Over the past week, Turkey has deployed reinforcements and expanded defensive structures at about a dozen observation points across opposition-held territories in Idlib, western Aleppo, and northern Hama provinces.

Writing in the The New York Times, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that the YPG terrorist group struck an alliance with Bashar al Assad in July and was sending troops to help him recapture Idlib which is the last major opposition and rebel stronghold in the country.

The outposts were established after a de-escalation agreement was reached between Turkey, Russia, and Iran in July 2017.

Areas in Deraa and Homs provinces and the suburb of Eastern Ghouta were also part of the de-escalation deal, but over the past few months, they have been captured by Syrian government forces backed by the Russian air force and pro-Iranian militias.

“The alliance has grown deeper since senior leaders of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF], spearheaded by the YPG, held formal talks with the Syrian regime to carve out a place for themselves in the new Syria,” Cavusoglu added.

Erdoğan to meet Putin in Russia to discuss the situation in Syrias Idlib

On September 7, a ceasefire proposed by Turkey was rejected by Russia and Iran during a summit among the three countries in Tehran.

Opposition and rebels have held much of Idlib province since 2015 but a regime offensive captured chunks on the eastern flanks of the province last year before Turkey began deploying its observation points and halting the advances.

A confrontation between Turkish forces and those backing the Syrian government are “highly unlikely” if the offensive on Idlib goes forward, said Gurkan.

In recent weeks, regime forces have been massing to the south and southwest of the province, and in recent days launched an intense aerial bombing campaign targeting rebel positions, three medical centres and rescue workers said.

Russia continues to control Syrias airspace, he noted, and Turkey is unlikely to initiate any military action there without Russian approval.

Turkey on Thursday called for Washington "to assess who its real allies in the region are" as the Assad regime in Syria is reported to be preparing an attack on the country's northwestern Idlib province.

“I dont expect a large-scale ground offensive [by Syrian forces]. It is going to a gradual, incremental siege warfare that could last maybe nine to 10 months,” said Gurkan.

During a meeting with foreign ambassadors in Ankara on Wednesday, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned that any military operation in Idlib would drag a region rife with problems to disaster.

He added Turkey was unlikely to withdraw its observation points manned by its troops if heavy fighting begins.

“Idlib is on the brink of a new crisis. Turkey is working with Russia, Iran and other allies to establish peace and stability in Syria and to stop the humanitarian tragedy,” Akar said.

“These are Russia-endorsed observation posts, the prime objective of which is to prevent the expansion of pro-Iranian Shia militias from Aleppo to Idlib,” he said.

"Having YPG forces operating from Syria, just miles from the border of Turkey, is untenable. It’s time for Washington to assess who its real allies in the region are."

According to Gurkan, Russia also wants to limit Iranian influence in Syria and prevent it from spreading into Idlib province.

Located near the Turkish border, Idlib province is home to more than 3 million Syrians, many of whom fled from other cities following attacks by regime forces.

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Turkey deploys armored vehicles to Syrian borderMilitary reinforcements arrived at the Syrian border in Turkey's southern Hatay province on Monday, including tanks, according to reports from the ground.Armored vehicles, Firtina (storm) howitzers, and tanks were distributed to border units after reaching Hatays Reyhanli district, said Anadolu Agency correspondents on the scene.Video: Turkey deploys military vehicles to Syria

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On the other hand Abdurrahman Rafi, a pro-Assad journalist who works in the region, wrote that the morale of troops on the frontlines is low, many militias and soldiers are seeking an opportunity to escape and most of the troops on the frontlines are not ready for battle. He reported that most of the military bases are filled with militias who want to loot the fronts after air and land operations, rather than fighting.

This frame grab from video provided by Central Station for Turkish Intervention, an activist-operated media group monitoring Turkish activities in Syria, that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows a Turkish military convoy heading to some of the 12 Turkish observations points that ring Idlib, Syria, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Turkey sent in military reinforcements Thursday to beef up its positions inside Syrias last rebel bastion Idlib, activists reported, even as the Turkish defense minister said Ankara is still trying with Russia and Iran to prevent a humanitarian tragedy in the case of a threatened Syrian government offensive. (Central Station for Turkish Intervention, via AP)

The Kremlin says that President Vladimir Putin could meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next week.

Video: In Idlib, worried father turns paper cups into gas masks

Putins spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that preparations are under way for Putins meeting with Erdogan in Sochi on Monday. He wouldnt elaborate on the meetings agenda, but the two leaders are likely to discuss the tensions in Syrias northwestern province of Idlib.

Any Military Operation Would be Disastrous for Idlib – Turkish Defense Minister

The Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, is preparing for a military offensive to reclaim control over Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold on the border with Turkey. Turkey strongly warned against the military action, saying it would trigger a humanitarian catastrophe.

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. The Turkish army also doubled its armored vehicles and tanks deployed at the Syrian border and dispatched missile platforms, artillery batteries to strategic points.

Russia has urged Turkey to persuade rebels in Idlib to sever ties with al-Qaida linked rebels in the area.

Abu Tawfik, a colonel on the Syrian regimes Homs front, confessed in a WhatsApp conversation with a lieutenant from the same front that they would fail in a ground operation. He also recommended to use those who came from Daraa and Ghouta as pawns by positioning them on the frontlines.

Turkeys military and defense chiefs have visited areas bordering Syria where the country has reinforced troops amid fears of a looming Syrian government offensive on Syrias last rebel-held province of Idlib.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of Military Staff Yasar Guler on Friday inspected troops in the border provinces of Hatay and Gaziantep.

In parallel to Turkeys diplomacy regarding the Idlib issue and the international communitys support of these efforts, bringing the Reyhanlı attack plotter from the Syrian port city of Latakia to Turkey put Damascus into a difficult situation.

Kurdish YPG militia may aid Syrian government in Idlib operation – Turkish foreign minister

Turkey has been reinforcing the border in recent weeks. Syrian activists meanwhile said new military reinforcements had arrived to beef up Turkish observation points inside Idlib.

The Latest: Turkey reinforces security posts in north Syria

The state-run Anadolu Agency reported late Thursday that commando units as well as howitzers, tanks, armored personnel carriers and heavy work machines were sent to the town of Reyhanli, in Hatay province as reinforcements

Turkeys foreign minister says his country is still working for a peaceful solution for Syrias rebel-held province of Idlib, adding that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would hold talks with Russias Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Activists: Turkey beefing up its troops in Syrias Idlib

Speaking during a visit to Pakistan on Friday, Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "We will continue our efforts with Iran and with Russia. … We will continue our efforts on international platforms as well." His comments were broadcast live on Turkish television.

Russia to create humanitarian corridors in Idlib to prevent civilian casualties – Russian FM

At a meeting in Tehran last week, the leaders of Russia and Iran backed military operations in Idlib despite pleas from Erdogan for a cease-fire.

Russia, Turkey join efforts to prevent humanitarian disaster in Idlib — defense ministry

Turkey fears a humanitarian crisis in Idlib, which straddles Turkeys borders and is home to more than 3 million people.

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