Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

US troops to stay in Syria as long as Iran forces operate on foreign soil — Bolton

September 25, 2018

France warns of “perpetual war” in the Middle East unless a peace agreement can be reached in Syria.

US troops would not leave Syria as long as Iranian forces its proxies were operting in foreign countries, one of Donald Trump’s closest advisors warned on Monday.

The warning from US National Security adviser John Bolton was a clear statement of the White Houses intent to curtail Tehran’s influence in Syria and other countries in the region.

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John Bolton

Iran was responsible for attacks in Syria, and Lebanon and was responsible for the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft last week, Bolton said.

Bolton said the US would keep a military presence in Syria until Iran is no longer active there.

Iranian proxies and militias

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” he said.

Both Israel ths US and neighboring Arab countries have all expressed their deep concern about Iran’s powerful presence in Syria and how long it plans to stay.

Israel has carried out strikes against many sites in Syria linked to Iranian militias. Last week, it was during an Israeli air raid that Syrian air defenses shot down an aircraft belonging to the Russian military, which is a key supporter of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Bolton on Monday warned Russia that its decision to respond by supplying Syria with an advanced missile defense system would be a “major mistake” and should be reconsidered, AP reported.

“We have American forces in the area we’re concerned about,” Bolton said. “The Israelis have a legitimate right to self-defense against this Iranian aggressive behavior, and what we’re all trying to do is reduce tensions, reduce the possibility of major new hostilities.”

Shortly before the downing, Israeli strikes had hit targets inside Syria, reportedly preventing an arms shipment to the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group.

Bolton’s warning on Iran came as France warned Monday that the Middle East risked “perpetual war” unless a peace agreement can be reached in Syria.

Syrian President “Bashar Assad but also those who support him have a responsiblity to work for a political solution,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters at the United Nations.

“If not, we risk heading toward a sort of perpetual war in the area,” he said.

Meanwhile, France has called for stronger international sanctions on Libyans who stand in the way of a political solution in the conflict-ridden country.

The current situation “forces us to show greater firmness toward those who want to insist on the status quo for their sole benefit,” Le Drian said, urging sanctions against the “militia members who threaten Tripoli.”

Arab News


Russia to boost Syrian air defence with S-300 system

September 24, 2018

Moscow will bolster Syria’s air defence with a S-300 system and jam radars of military planes striking from off the coast of the Mediterranean following the downing of a Russian plane, its military chief said.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that President Vladimir Putin has ordered additional security measures after a Syrian Soviet-era S-200 air defence missile shot down a Russian military plane by mistake, killing 15, in an incident last week that Moscow blames on Israel.

“This has pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops” in Syria, Shoigu said in a televised statement.

© AFP/File | A Russian IL-20 plane similar to the one shot down on September 17

“(Russia will) transfer the modern S-300 air defence system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks.”

Syrian military had already been trained to use the system, which was set to be sent over in 2013 but was held up “at the request of Israel,” Shoigu said.

“In regions near Syria over the Mediterranean Sea, there will be radio-electronic suppression of satellite navigation, on-board radar systems and communication systems of military aviation attacking objects on Syrian territory.”

Moscow says Israeli F-16 planes which struck Latakia in western Syria on September 17 later used the landing Russian Il-20 surveillance plane as a “cover,” which resulted in the Il-20 being struck by a Syrian air defence missile.

“We are certain that the realisation of these measures will cool the ‘hot heads’ and will keep them from poorly thought-out actions which threaten our servicemen,” Shoigu said.


Prominent German Erdogan critic to attend controversial state dinner

September 24, 2018

Cem Özdemir, one of Germany’s fiercest critics of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, intends to “send a signal” by attending a dinner for the Turkish president during his state visit. A host of lawmakers have pledged a boycott.

Cem Özdemir (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Riedl)

Opposition Green party politicianCem Özdemir, who has Turkish roots and has repeatedly slammed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies, is to attend a state dinner for the Turkish President to send a “signal” to Turkey and Germany’s large Turkish community.

“The opposition belongs to politics in this country, we’re an integral part of our democracy,” he told German daily Tagesspiegel.

He stressed that Erdogan “clearly does not deserve a state dinner,” but that the president “will have to put up with me, who stands for criticism of his authoritarian politics.” Özdemir said in July that Erdogan was “not a normal president in a democracy” and should not be granted a full-blown state visit.

On Twitter, he added that “although he won’t like it, that’s how we do things here.” He added #freethemall to his tweet, a hashtag used to protest against the imprisonment of journalists in Turkey and elsewhere.

Cem Özdemir


Ich werde hingehen: Zumindest in Deutschland muss er die Opposition hören, sehen und entgeht ihr nicht. Das muss Herr Erdogan aushalten, auch wenn ihm das nicht gefallen dürfte. So ist es nunmal bei uns. 

Cem Özdemir trifft auf Erdogan – und wiederholt Kritik

Beim Besuch des türkischen Präsidenten wollen Oppositionspolitiker nicht am Staatsbankett teilnehmen. Cem Özdemir dagegen sagt: „Erdogan muss mich aushalten“

He warned the German government that any charm offensive by Erdogan when he visits Germany from September 27-29 would be motivated solely by economic concerns. The Turkish economy is suffering from high inflation and the plunging lira, which is hitting business confidence.

“The German government will have to demonstrate that the German state and its rule of law will not tolerate his [Erdogan’s] despotic behavior and that it is not acceptable for him to take his conflicts to Germany and set up a network of spies and informers,” he said.

Özdemir is well-known to the Turkish establishment. At the Munich Security Conference in February, while staying in the same hotel as the Turkish delegation, Özdemir was called a “terrorist” by some members of the delegation and had to be given police protection.

Erdogan’s AKP party accuses Özdemir of links to the Kurdish PKK party, which is banned in Turkey.

Controversial visit

A state visit is routinely granted to heads of states, involving military honors and a state dinner. However, many in Germany feel Erdogan should only have been granted a working visit because of his increasingly authoritarian rule back home and for what many perceive as his detrimental influence on Germany’s Turkish community — the biggest Turkish diaspora in Europe.

Large protests are expected in various German cities, among them Cologne. Erdogan is due in the city to attend the opening ceremony for a mosque affiliated with Ditib, the controversial Turkish-Islamic Union with close ties to Ankara. Germany’s domestic intelligence service is mulling putting the organization under surveillance.

Read moreTurkish ‘guest workers’ transformed German society

Several lawmakers have declined the invitation for dinner, among them the head of the business-friendly FDP, Christian Lindner, Green party chairs Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck as well as several politicians from the far-right AfD and the Left party.

Hopes Rise for Release of U.S. Pastor Being Held in Turkey

September 24, 2018

Andrew Brunson appears in court on Oct. 12, where a judge could decide to free him

Andrew Brunson has been put under house arrest in Turkey as his trial continues on terrorism charges.
Andrew Brunson has been put under house arrest in Turkey as his trial continues on terrorism charges. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Turkish authorities are sending signals that an American pastor facing terrorism charges could be released next month, raising fresh hopes in the U.S. that the polarizing dispute will soon be resolved.

A Turkish judge could free Pastor Andrew Brunson when he appears in court on Oct. 12—but only if the U.S. stops putting pressure on the country to send the American back to the U.S., according to Turkish officials.

“It’s a possible outcome,” one official said.

U.S. officials said that the Trump administration, which demanded the pastor be released immediately this summer, decided to ease off its pressure campaign amid fear that Turkey’s economic difficulties could spread to other emerging markets.

“The best strategy is, right before this October hearing, to be a little bit calm because they are recognizing finally now that we’re willing to act,” said one U.S. official familiar with the debate. “Come October, if we’re in the same place, our side is going to unload on the Turks. . . Right now it’s a critical time where you don’t want to put them in a bind.”

Release of the pastor wouldn’t just remove a major impediment to relations between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, it would be a boon for President Trump and the Republican party as they try to hold off a Democratic surge and retain control of Congress.

Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have both made securing Mr. Brunson’s freedom a priority, and his case has become a cause for evangelical Christians whose votes could be pivotal to Republicans retaining their legislative majority.

Mr. Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will both be in New York this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly, but no meeting has been scheduled, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves as he attends the Teknofest aviation, space and technology fair at the new airport in Istanbul on Saturday.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves as he attends the Teknofest aviation, space and technology fair at the new airport in Istanbul on Saturday. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. officials warned against any premature celebration, saying the issue was in the hands of the two leaders and that previous efforts to release him had collapsed at the last minute.

“Erdogan, just like Trump, is known to change his mind frequently and at the last minute,” the U.S. official said.

Mr. Brunson, a 50-year-old evangelical North Carolina pastor who was detained in Turkey in the wake of the 2016 failed coup, has been accused by Turkey of aiding terrorist groups. He has denied the charges and the U.S. government has characterized them as baseless.

U.S. officials said they saw positive signs in recent actions by Turkey, including a decision last week by a judge to reduce charges against Serkan Golge, a Turkish-American NASA scientist serving prison time on terrorism charges that the U.S. also characterizes as unfounded.

Mr. Golge’s sentence was cut from seven-and-a-half years to five years after the court overturned a conviction for being a member of a terrorist group and concluded that he aided the banned organization.

Selman Ogut, a Turkish attorney with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s administration, said the judge could follow a similar route next month in Mr. Brunson’s case.

“He could be released in the upcoming month because charges aren’t of being member (of a terrorist organization),” said Mr. Ogut, who teaches law at Istanbul’s Medipol university. “We are talking about assistance.”

But Mr. Ogut said there was an important pre-condition to the pastor’s release.

“They must lean back and relax, otherwise it is a vicious circle,” he said. “If I were the judge, I could not accept to receive orders—do that, do that. America isn’t my boss.”

U.S. officials were so convinced they had a deal to secure the pastor’s freedom in July when he last appeared in court that they kept a plane on standby at an airbase in Germany to fly him out of Turkey at short notice. But Mr. Brunson was sent back to jail.

Turkey quickly moved Mr. Brunson to house arrest after Mr. Trump tweeted a denunciation of the court action as a “total disgrace.” Further negotiations failed to secure Mr. Brunson’s freedom.

Last month, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on two top Turkish officials over Mr. Brunson’s case, a move that exacerbated an economic crisis in Turkey that pushed the lira to historic lows.

Mr. Erdogan denounced the action as an “economic war,” but he privately sought ways to resolve the standoff, according to the Turkish officials.

Mr. Brunson, who ran a small Presbyterian church in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir at the time of his arrest in October 2016, was transferred to his home on July 25 after a court ruled to ease the conditions of his detention, citing health concerns.

He now lives secluded in Izmir, monitored by an electronic bracelet attached to his ankle, according to his lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt.

“His mood is much better because while in jail, he had some memory lapses and was on anti-depressants,” the lawyer said.

In preparation for the Oct. 12 hearing, the lawyer said he has received memos containing new accusations levelled by secret witnesses codenamed Sword and Dagger. One of them alleges that Mr. Brunson transported bags of cash by boat into Syria. Like previous secret witnesses, the person is expected to appear through video link, with the face blurred and voice altered.

“I have yet to tell” Mr. Brunson, the lawyer said. “He is bewildered by such nonsense.”

Even if Mr. Brunson were released the two governments would still face a host of issues, from divergence over how to restore peace in Syria to Turkey’s proposed purchase of an advanced missile defense system from Russia.

U.S. and Turkish officials said they were nervous that a single tweet could ruin hopes to resolve the Brunson case.

On Thursday, Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak—the son-in-law of Mr. Erdogan—who had seen his first economic speech in August tarnished by a flurry of Mr. Trump’s angry tweets—made another presentation.

As he took the floor, he asked the audience: “Everything OK on Twitter ?”

Write to David Gauthier-Villars at and Dion Nissenbaum at

Pro-Turkey Syria rebels cautiously accept Idlib deal

September 23, 2018

“But we will stay alert to any betrayal by the Russians, the regime or the Iranians.”

Pro-Turkey rebels have cautiously accepted a Moscow-Ankara deal to prevent a Russia-backed regime attack on Syria’s last major opposition bastion of Idlib, while a small jihadist group has rejected it.

The dominant force in the northwestern region bordering Turkey, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance led by jihadists of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, had on Sunday however still not responded.

Late Saturday, the National Liberation Front (NLF) rebel alliance in a statement accepted the deal reached on Monday for Idlib, but said they remained on their guard.

They announced “our full cooperation with our Turkish ally in helping to make a success their efforts to spare civilians from the afflictions of war”.

“But we will stay alert to any betrayal by the Russians, the regime or the Iranians,” the NLF warned, fearing the agreement to be “temporary”.

© AFP/File | Syrian rebel fighters are seen in the northern countryside of Idlib province on September 11, 2018

“We will not abandon our weapons, our land or our revolution” against the Russia- and Iran-backed forces of President Bashar al-Assad, the rebels said.

Also on Saturday, in a statement circulated on social media, the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen rejected the agreement reached in the Russian resort of Sochi.

“We at the Hurras al-Deen organisation again announce our rejection of these conspiracies,” it said.

Monday’s agreement provides for a U-shaped buffer zone 15 to 20 kilometres (9 to 12 miles) wide to be set up around Idlib.

Under the deal, all factions in the planned demilitarised zone must hand over their heavy weapons by October 10, and radical groups must withdraw by October 15.

Both the extremist Hurras al-Deen and NLF rebels are present inside this planned buffer area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

But the dominant HTS alliance is also widely present, according to the Britain-based monitor.

The jihadist-led group — which controls more than half of the Idlib region — has not officially responded to the agreement.

But its propaganda agency Ebaa has cast doubt on Turkey’s motivations.

In August, HTS leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani warned opposition factions in Idlib against handing over their weapons.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since erupting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.


Turkey unveils plan to fight currency crisis; Lowers growth target

September 20, 2018

Finance minister promises to slash public spending by nearly $10bn as inflation surges
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Finance minister Berat Albayrak said some infrastructure projects that have not been tendered out will be suspended © Reuters

Laura Pitel in Istanbul 

Turkey’s finance minister has lowered the country’s economic growth targets and promised to slash public spending by nearly $10bn as the country seeks to find a path out of a currency crisis.

Berat Albayrak, who was placed in charge of the economy by his father-in-law, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said GDP growth would be 3.8 per cent in 2018 and 2.3 per cent in 2019, both cut from previous forecasts of 5.5 per cent.

Seeking to allay concerns among international investors that public spending has fuelled inflation that almost hit 18 per cent in August, Mr Albayrak promised to cut showpiece infrastructure projects that have accounted for a large proportion of government expenditure.

“Some of the projects that have not been tendered out yet will be suspended. Mega infrastructure projects will be implemented with international financing,” he said in a presentation using English-language slides at a museum in Istanbul.

He said the budget deficit would be 1.9 per cent of GDP this year and 1.8 per cent in 2019. In an acknowledgment that inflation is likely to rise further in the months ahead, the 2018 inflation target was 20.8 per cent but Mr Albayrak said it would come down to 15.9 per cent next year.

The Turkish lira has lost 40 per cent of its value against the dollar since the start of the year as investors have become increasingly fretful about the country’s economic health.

The economic plan came a week after Turkey’s central bank won praise from some investors for raising interest rates despite Mr Erdogan’s apparent objections. On Thursday investors said they were looking for more conservative GDP forecasts and more commitment to fiscal discipline.

Alvaro Ortiz Vidal-Abarca, chief economist for Turkey at the Spanish bank BBVA, said the plan was based on “more realistic GDP and inflation assumptions”, which he said showed that the government was willing to accept “lower but more sustainable growth”.

He said the plan to cut spending was a welcome step but added that more details on plans to raise an extra TL16bn ($2.6bn) in revenue would be welcome.

Mr Albayrak said “more sound public-private partnership practices will be implemented”, a recommendation of the IMF, and that the social insurance scheme would be revised.

He said banks would undergo “health assessment studies” to “identify [their] financial structure and asset quality”.

Investors had hoped that Thursday’s presentation would announce the creation of a “bad bank” to transfer problem loans to the state. The finance minister said that, following the health check, Turkey would take further steps if necessary.

Turkey: Istanbul court jails executives of shuttered TV channel

September 20, 2018

An Istanbul court on Wednesday jailed three former executives of a closed down leftist television channel for spreading “terror propaganda”, reports said.

The court convicted Hayatin Sesi TV’s former co-owners Mustafa Kara and Ismail Gokhan Bayram and editor-in chief Gokhan Cetin of disseminating propoganda both for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and IS extremists.

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PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan was sentenced to death by a Turkish court in 1999 (EPA photo)

All three were handed jail terms of three years and nine months.

Hayatin Sesi TV, a leftist channel which had been strongly critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and closely covered the summer 2013 protests against his rule.

It was shut down by emergency decree in the wake of 2016 failed coup.

Media rights groups Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI) confirmed the three-year nine-month sentences handed down by the court to each of the men.

Prosecutors had asked that they serve at least 13 years in jail. Supporters had described the charges as absurd.

They were convicted of disseminating propaganda for IS, the PKK and another radical Kurdish group the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) in their reporting.

The three can remain at liberty pending appeal, the Turkey representative of RSF Erol Onderoglu told AFP, slamming the jail sentences as “harsh and disproportionate”.

Press rights groups accuse Erdogan of squeezing freedom of expression in Turkey, especially after the failed coup.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018

Russia, Turkey agree to create demilitarized zone around Syria’s Idlib

September 18, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to forge a demilitarized zone between rebels and Syrian government forces in Syria’s Idlib region.

Members of the Syrian pro-regime forces prepare ammunition during the advance towards rebel-held positions west of Aleppo

The presidents of Turkey and Russia agreed on Monday to declare Syria’s Idlib province as a “demilitarized zone,” with the aim of halting the Syrian government’s assault on the rebel-held region.

The agreement marks a major diplomatic victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was eager to prevent a major Syrian government assault, backed by Russian air power, on the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.

What’s in the Idlib deal?

As part of the Russia-Turkey agreement:

  • Both forces will establish a 15 to 20 kilometer (9 to 12.5 mile) wide demilitarized zone around Idlib province by October 15
  • Radical rebel groups, such as al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) will be ordered to leave the zone
  • The Syrian government will gain access to a key highway passing through Idlib that connects the north of the country with other major cities
  • Both Turkish and Russian troops will patrol the demilitarized zone

‘A serious result’

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Monday’s deal as a “serious result,” adding that “Russia and Turkey have confirmed their determination to counter terrorism in Syria in all its forms.”

Putin also said he believed the agreement would also go some way in ending Syria’s bloody seven-year civil war. “It is our common belief that the practical realization of the planned steps will provide an additional impulse for the process of a political settlement of the Syrian conflict,” he said.

Erdogan said the Idlib buffer zone was crucial to preventing a “big humanitarian crisis.”

The Turkish president added that the “the opposition will continue to stay in the areas they are in.”

“In return we will ensure that radical groups, which we will designate together with Russia, won’t be active in the relevant
area,” he said, referring to jihadi groups.
Read more: What is Iran’s role in Syria if Assad wins the war?

Infografik Karte Streitkräfte im Idlib-Region Syrien EN

Turkey’s diplomatic win: The creation of a demilitarized zone around Idlib marked a significant U-turn by Putin, who just last week during talks in Iran dismissed Erdogan’s calls for a ceasefire. According to the exiled Syrian opposition, Russia’s decision to abstain from the offensive represented a diplomatic success for Turkey and the United States, who had also warned against further strikes on Idlib.

Bloodbath averted: The threat of a Syrian onslaught on Idlib had prompted several countries, including Germany, to warn of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the region. Despite coming under almost non-stop bombardment for several years, the area is still home to some 3 million Syrians, around 60,000 of whom are believed to be rebel fighters. Turkey also said it feared that an attack on the rebel bastion would trigger a mass exodus across it borders.

Idlib: A ‘hotbed’ for terrorism? The Russian government has repeatedly described Idlib as a “hotbed” for terrorism, even claiming that rebel forces were preparing a chemical attack that would ultimately be blamed on the Syrian regime. Turkey, however, has criticized the Assad government for using the presence of jihadists as pretext for a potential onslaught.

Syria still determined to wipe out Al-Nusra Front: A key part of Monday’s deal appeared to be Turkey agreeing to order the evacuation of HTS forces from Idlib. Earlier on Monday, the Damascus’ ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva indicated that the government would continue its onslaught against the group, which it views as a terrorist organization.

dm/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)

Turkey will increase troop numbers in Cyprus: Erdogan

September 17, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed that Ankara will increase rather than reduce its troops numbers in Cyprus, a move that could further set back attempts to reunify the divided Mediterranean island.

In comments published in Turkish media Monday, Erdogan added that Turkey had no need for a naval base on Cyprus as mooted in some reports but could establish such a facility if it was necessary from a “psychological” point of view.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (unseen) in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in Sochi on September 17, 2018. (AFP)

“No, we are not going to reduce the numbers of our troops. We will increase them, we are not going to decrease them,” he told Turkish reporters traveling back with him from a trip to Azerbaijan.

He expressed impatience over the Cyprus issue, saying “this business would have been solved” if the Greek Cypriots had backed unification in an April 2004 referendum on a plan put forward by the late former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

While Turkish Cypriots were overwhelmingly in favor of the plan, Greek Cypriots voted against.

“Henceforth we will implement the formula that we have declared for ourselves,” said Erdogan, without elaborating.

Cyprus has been divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion which occupied the northern third of the island in response to a Greek military junta-sponsored coup.

Turkey is believed to maintain around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus, although the military does not give official figures.

The withdrawal — or drastic reduction — of Turkey’s military presence is seen as key to any reunification plan being acceptable to the Greek Cypriot side.

Some conservative Turkish media have also reported in recent weeks that Turkey was planning to open a naval base on Cyprus, a move that would likely deal a terminal blow to any reunification hopes.

But Erdogan said “we have no need to build a base there,” noting that unlike Greece, Turkey was just “minutes away” from the coast of Cyprus.

But he appeared to leave the door open to such a move as a way of making a political statement.

“This issue just has a psychological dimension. In this respect, if we felt the need, we could establish a base. Our presence there is important,” Erdogan said.

There were high hopes at the beginning of 2017 that UN-backed talks could clinch a breakthrough in the long-running stalemate on reuniting the island.

But the deadlock has not been broken and analysts say rapid progress is unlikely for the moment as Erdogan reaches out to the nationalist electorate in Turkey.


Iran vows to protect civilians in Syria’s Idlib province

September 17, 2018

Iran said Monday it is committed to protecting civilians if its Syrian regime ally launches a full-scale offensive on the country’s last rebel stronghold of Idlib province.

“The humanitarian issue is of significant importance to us,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told journalists in Tehran.

“In line with our policy of fighting terrorism and reclaiming Syria’s territorial integrity, we are highly determined to solve the Idlib issue so that the people are not harmed,” he added.

© AFP/File | Buildings hit by regime bombs in Syria’s southern Idlib province, pictured on September 9, 2018

Tehran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s seven-year conflict, and has said it is ready to support an assault by regime forces on the rebel-held province.

Iran, Russia and Turkey met at a Tehran summit on September 7 to discuss the expected offensive against Idlib but were unable to overcome their differences.

While Ankara says it agrees with Moscow on the need to push extremists out, it is concerned about the fate of pro-Turkey rebels also present in the area.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan were due to meet on Monday to continue the talks.

Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will not be present, Ghasemi said Tehran is continuing discussions with both countries as well as Damascus.

Sixty percent of Idlib’s area is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate.

Turkey has meanwhile bolstered its military presence in Idlib, with Ankara aiming to prevent a Moscow-backed assault by Assad’s forces who have massed around the province in recent weeks.

The United Nations and non-governmental organisations have repeatedly warned that such an offensive would unleash a “bloodbath” and “humanitarian catastrophe” in the area, which is home to three million people.