Turkish military operation in Syrian Idleb region is only "a matter of time", said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday (February 19) as talks between Turkey and Russia have resulted in no agreement.
Ankara, which supports rebels, and Moscow, which provides military aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, support opposing camps in the conflict in Syria. The two capitals are nevertheless trying to reach a political solution and in 2018 they reached an agreement on a de-escalation zone in the Idleb region allowing them to install military observation posts in this last rebel stronghold in the north - west of Syria.
This fragile cooperation is however threatened by a military offensive launched by the Syrian regime, which claimed the lives of thirteen Turks this month.
>> See: Battle for Idleb: deadly escalation
Turkey demands that Russia compel Bashar al-Assad to end this offensive by the end of the month, which has sparked a new influx of civilians towards the border when it already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its territory.
Speaking to members of his AKP party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey was determined to make the Idleb region a safe area "no matter what the cost", although discussions continue with Russia.
Fears of Moscow
"We are entering the final days allowing the (Syrian) regime to stop its hostile behavior against Idleb. We are issuing our last warnings," warned the Turkish president. "We have not achieved the desired results in our discussions (with Russia). Discussions will continue, but it is true that we are far from meeting our requirements."
"Turkey has made all the preparations to implement its own operational plans. I assert that we can intervene at any time. In other words, the Idleb offensive is only a matter of time."
>> Read: The Idleb crisis, a test for the Russian-Turkish "honeymoon"
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said such an offensive would be the worst-case scenario. He added that Russia and Turkey remain in contact to avoid further tensions in the Idleb region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrian and Russian forces continue to face rebel attacks in the region. He confirmed that Russia and Turkey had not reached an agreement despite their numerous exchanges.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Turkey was giving Syrian forces until the end of the month to withdraw from certain positions in the Idleb region. "We will not leave Idleb to the (Syrian) regime, which does not understand the determination of our country, or to those who encourage it," said the Turkish president.
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