Turkey seeks to defuse tension | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 22, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:32 AM, February 22, 2020

Syria’s Idlib Offensive

Turkey seeks to defuse tension

Says it wants no ‘face-off with Russia’ as clashes kill dozens

Turkey said Thursday it wanted no "face off" with Russia over its Syrian ally's months-long offensive against Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria.

Russia warned Turkey meanwhile to stop arming the "terrorists" saying Russian warplanes had struck Ankara-backed groups in the Idlib region.

The region's growing volatility prompted Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron in Berlin on Thursday to call for talks with Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In their phone call with Putin, Germany said Merkel and Macron also voiced concern about a "humanitarian catastrophe" that has seen an estimated 900,000 people flee their homes since December.

Earlier on Thursday, Turkey blamed a Syrian regime air strike for the deaths of two of its soldiers in Idlib.

It brings the number of Turkish personnel killed by Syrian forces this month to 16. Five others were wounded on Thursday, the defence ministry said

"We have no intentions of a face-off with Russia," Turkey's defence minister Hulusi Akar told CNN Turk broadcaster, adding talks would continue with Russian officials.

One of the issues being discussed is the airspace above Idlib and Turkey's expectations for Russia not to get involved, Akar said.

There has been no concrete agreement between Russia and Turkey after two rounds of talks between their respective delegations in Ankara and Moscow earlier this month.

Ankara insists that it wants to avoid a humanitarian disaster but also wants to avoid flow of refugees into Turkey, which is already home to 3.6 million Syrians.

Turkey has warned Damascus of an "imminent" operation if regime forces do not move back behind Ankara's military posts in Idlib.

Clashes were reported between regime forces and Turkey-backed rebels in Nayrab, between the provincial capital of Idlib and the town of Saraqeb, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 25 fighters from both sides were killed, it added.

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