Turkey says Erdogan will meet Putin on Monday for Syria talks
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV (POOL/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, officials said, amid rising international concern over a looming Syrian government assault on a rebel-held province bordering Turkey.
"President Erdogan will meet with Mr Putin on Monday," Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a televised press conference on Friday.
The meeting will take place in the Russian resort city of Sochi, a senior Turkish official told AFP.
Russia-backed forces of the Syrian regime have massed around the Idlib province in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent air and ground attack to retake the last major opposition bastion.
UN agencies and relief organizations have warned repeatedly that such an assault could spark one of the worst humanitarian disasters of Syria's seven-year war, and a UN commission called on Wednesday for rebel groups in Syria's Idlib province to leave urban areas to protect civilians from any looming regime assault.
The proposal comes after the United Nations' peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, last week suggested a deadline be set for fighters in Idlib to pull back from its cities.
Meanwhile, Turkey has intensified negotiations with Russia to avert a possible attack, repeatedly calling for a ceasefire.
However last week Erdogan and Putin failed to agree on a ceasefire at a three-way summit in Tehran which also involved Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Russia and Iran are key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Turkey however backs opposition fighters seeking the ouster of the Syrian leader, and has said a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus towards its border.
Cavusoglu on Friday said Turkey was ready to cooperate with anyone in the fight against terror groups in Syria, but criticized the Damascus regime for using the presence of jihadists groups to legitimize a possible operation in Idlib.
"We are ready to cooperate with everyone in the fight against terror groups but the killing of civilians, women and children under the guise of fighting against terror is not correct," he said.
"We cannot bring peace that way."
Idlib's most powerful armed faction is the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, which Ankara officially designated a "terrorist" group last month.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Syrian government forces launched chemical attacks in three separate incidents this past year, according to United Nations human rights investigators, who said the regime fired chlorine, a banned chemical weapon, on rebel strongholds Idlib and Ghouta provinces.
The U.N. investigators said the attacks constituted war crimes and urged the major powers to step in and take action to avoid a massacre in Idlib.
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