Turkey says working to prevent Russian attacks on Idlib
Turkey on Wednesday said Russia's air assault on Syria's rebel-held province of Idlib was "wrong" and that Ankara would try to stop further attacks.
Syrian regime troops have for weeks been massing on the edges of the province which borders Turkey, raising fears of another humanitarian disaster in Syria's seven-year conflict.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that at least nine civilians were killed in Russian raids on Tuesday. But Moscow on Wednesday said the strikes targeted the "terrorist" Al-Nusra Front.
Ankara wants to "prevent attacks on Idlib", Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a press conference with German counterpart Heiko Maas.
"After the raids, there had been talks between our relevant institutions. We clearly told Russia these attacks were wrong," Cavusoglu said.
Idlib is one of the so-called "de-escalation" zones set up as a result of talks by Russia, Turkey and Iran last year as Damascus regained control of more of the country.
"From the day that it was clear there could be an attack on Idlib, we have been working hard to prevent the regime violating the ceasefire and to stop the attacks on Idlib," Cavusoglu said.
He added that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted to take control of the province, and used the presence of jihadist groups as a "pretext".
Idlib is dominated by jihadists of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, but in the past few years has taken in tens of thousands of rebels and civilians evacuated from other areas recaptured by the regime.
Turkey, which backs rebels fighting against Assad, has held several rounds of talks with Russia aimed at averting an assault on Idlib.
"We can work together to render those (radical groups) ineffective. The solution is not to bomb or attack all over Idlib, without any distinction," said Cavusoglu.
"We don't find it correct that the (raids) happened before the Tehran summit," referring to the three-way summit of the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran on Friday.
Maas said Germany shared Turkey's concern of a "looming humanitarian catastrophe" as Ankara fears hundreds of thousands could cross the border in the event of a bloody offensive.
"We will continue our efforts to prevent it. Turkey is possibly better prepared than others to weigh in on these developments," the German minister said.
The United Nations and aid groups have warned a military campaign could spark one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in a war that has already killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions.
Some 2.9 million people live in Idlib and surrounding areas, among them one million children.