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Erdogan, Putin discuss situation in Idlib

ANKARA, February 21. /TASS/. Russian and Turkish Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the situation in Idlib during a phone call on Friday, the Turkish leader’s office informed reporters.

"Our president has stressed the need to contain the regime [of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] in Idlib and to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe," the message informs.

The sides also "expressed their commitment to the agreements reached previously [on Syria] and discussed the situation in Libya."

Erdogan told Putin that "Idlib regulation lies through the full implementation of the Sochi memorandum," the Turkish leader’s office informed.

Tensions in Idlib

The situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone in Syria escalated in late January, when the Syrian government made an advance in the area in response to multiple ceasefire violations by militant groups. On February 5, Syrian government forces entered the town of Saraqib, an outpost of Jabhat al-Nusra (terrorist organization banned in Russia) in the Idlib province. Saraqib is a town of strategic importance that sits at the junction of two main roads connecting Latakia and Damascus with Aleppo.

On February 11, the Syrian opposition launched an offensive against the Syrian government forces in two directions: the city of Saraqib and the settlement of Nayrab to the north of Saraqib. The armed opposition units were aided by the Turkish military. The Syrian army repelled all the attacks. Casualties among Syrian and Turkish troops were reported.

Recently, militant attacks on the positions of the Syrian army have increased, causing the Syrian government forces to retaliate. On February 20, the Russian Aerospace Forces started to provide support to the Syrian army.

On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Ankara is ready to use all of its firepower in case of a large-scale military operation in Idlib. He added that the start of a new operation in Idlib is a question of time, and that all preparations for it are complete.

Idlib is the only Syrian region that has been controlled by illegal armed groups, including the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group, since 2012. A northern de-escalation zone was set up in Idlib in 2017 to give shelter to militants who refused to surrender arms in Eastern Ghouta and Syria’s southern regions. The Turkish army has 12 observation outposts in the province.