Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says the Syrian regime’s air strikes on Idlib targeted moderate opposition forces in the city; and Russia and Iran need to prevent these attacks.

This October 24, 2017 file photo shows Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaking during a joint news conference after talks with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Ankara, Turkey.
This October 24, 2017 file photo shows Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaking during a joint news conference after talks with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Ankara, Turkey. (AP)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday said Russia and Iran needed to fulfill their duties and prevent strikes by Syrian regime forces in the country's Idlib province, saying the violations could not have happened without their support.

Idlib, the largest opposition-held area in Syria now, has been designated as a "de-escalation zone" as part of an international deal last year by Turkey, Iran and Russia to end the conflict.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Cavusoglu said Ankara would hold a meeting on Syria with like-minded countries in Turkey after a summit in the Russian city of Sochi, where a Syrian congress of national dialogue is set to be held at the end of this month.

His comments came in reaction to recent attacks carried out by Bashar al Assad's regime on moderate opposition groups in northwestern Idlib city.

“If you are the guarantors – which you are – you should stop the regime. It's not just a simple airstrike. The regime is moving in Idlib. The intent here is different.”

Cavusoglu added that it was not appropriate to bomb the whole city on the pretext that some terrorists were hiding there.

“If there is a terrorist organisation there, these groups should be determined and their location should be determined. Careful operations should be carried out with intelligence from the ground or with the technology."

On Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of Russia and Iran to express its “discomfort” about the recent attacks by Syrian regime in Idlib. 

Russia's Ambassador to Ankara Alexei Yerkhov and Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian Fard, were asked to urge the regime to end its border violations in the city, sources said.

TRT World's Andrew Hopkins explains Turkey's concerns about regime attacks in Idlib.

The Syrian regime has increased pressure on the last opposition bastions in the country this week, carrying out air strikes daily.

Turkey had previously voiced its discomfort to Russian and Iranian officials via military and diplomatic channels, about the Assad regime's violations of de-escalation zones that were established during the Astana peace talks aimed at ending the Syria conflict.

TRT World's Sara Firth visited Idlib and spoke to residents who were caught up in the violence.

Rebels stronghold under attack

Idlib province is the largest rebel-held area in Syria and is situated on the border with Turkey.

One of the main group in the city is Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), which three guarantor states (Turkey, Russia and Iran) designate as a terrorist group. 

HTS is being led by members of former Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, known as Al Nusra Front.

Although Idlib falls within a network of de-escalation zones – endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran – in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited, regime forces and their allies have been on the offensive since late October in the city.

Nearly 100 civilians were killed and more than 200 others injured in attacks in de-escalation zones in Idlib in the past three weeks.

Syrian regime forces also captured 14 villages on Monday around the city as they advanced amid a wave of airstrikes.

A cloud of smoke is seen near Al Tamanah, in Syria's northwestern opposition-held province of Idlib on January 2, 2018.
A cloud of smoke is seen near Al Tamanah, in Syria's northwestern opposition-held province of Idlib on January 2, 2018. (AP Archive)

Peace talks in Sochi

The Russian city of Sochi is the designated venue of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which will be held from January 29-30.

All factions of Syrian society except for terror groups are expected to attend the congress. 

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.

Source: TRT World