Turkey, Russia eye closer coordination on Syria

By AFP
Published: March 14, 2019
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkey and Russia are discussing a ‘coordination centre’ to better manage their operations in Syria’s rebel-controlled Idlib province, Turkey’s defence minister said.

Regime ally Russia and Turkey, which supports rebels, have been on opposite sides in the Syrian war. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have been working closely to end the fighting.

A Russian-Turkish deal for a demilitarised zone last year protected the Idlib rebel bastion.

The two countries and Ankara are already preparing joint patrols around the northwestern Syrian region.

“We are working on a joint coordination centre,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said after a meeting on Wednesday, according to a ministry statement on Thursday.

His remarks came as Russian jets carried out air strikes in Idlib on Wednesday, the first such attacks since the Turkish-Russian deal was signed in September as a way to prevent major bloodshed.

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At least 13 civilians, including six infants were killed in the raids, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor that relies on sources inside Syria.

Earlier this month, Turkey said its forces and Russians would begin ground patrols around Idlib province as part of their ceasefire deal.
Idlib is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), a group led by Syria’s former al Qaeda affiliate.

HTS in January took control of the administration of Idlib’s region where three million people have been protected.

A Turkish-backed National Liberation Front controls part of the rebel stronghold.

The Russian-Turkish agreement was supposed to see hardline militants withdraw from Idlib but they never did. The ceasefire has held except for sporadic bombardments and skirmishes, avoiding an all-out Syrian military assault.

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