Turkey signals no let up in refugee flow to Europe after Syria accord

Turkey signalled that it would continue encouraging migrants and refugees to flood over its borders into Europe.

A ceasefire deal for the Syrian enclave of Idlib, signed between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday, does not require Turkey to change a decision to open its western borders, Turkish presidential sources said, according to state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey says more than 130,000 migrants and refugees have tried to enter the European Union since last week, when it took the decision to allow them free passage after the deaths of 36 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. Turkey says the EU has failed to keep its promises to pay billions of euros to help it house more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and failed to back plans for a safe zone for displaced people in Syria.

"The Russia-Turkey agreement does not require the rollback of changes made to Turkey's refugee policy and does not change the fact of the European Union's non-compliance with its promises as part of the 2016 refugee deal,” Anadolu cited the sources as saying. “The EU should take the necessary steps in cooperation with Turkey, and not against Turkey, to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

Turkey’s decision to open its borders has raised political tensions with neighbouring Greece. Thousands of Turkish and Greek police are facing off along the border. There have been reports of tear gas being fired from both sides as Turkey encourages migrants to cross.

(All times GMT +3)

23:35 - Putin and Assad spoke about Idlib ceasefire, Russian media says

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad on Thursday to discuss the ceasefire agreement reached with Turkey over Syria’s embattled Idlib province, Sputnik Turkish reported on Friday, citing a statement by the Kremlin.

Putin informed Assad about the terms of the truce reached with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Moscow on Thursday, underlining that their implementation will ensure the establishment of stability in Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

Finding the results of the talks "very positive," Assad "expressed his gratitude to Putin for his support in the fight against terrorist organisations and his efforts to ensure Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Sputnik said.

23:20 - Idlib ceasefire largely holds despite clashes, says war monitor, rebel sources

A ceasefire in Idlib, orchestrated by Russia and Turkey through talks on Thursday and put into effect at midnight, has been broadly holding despite violations, Reuters reported on Friday, citing a war monitor and rebel sources.

Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) described “relative calm” for the first eight hours of the ceasefire, but later reported sporadic incidents throughout the day.

#المرصدالسوري القاعدة #التركية في ” #تل_جبرين ” تقصف بالمدفعية قرية ضمن مناطق انتشار القوات #الكردية شمال #حلب https://t.co/2noYdGeSUg

— #المرصدالسوري #SOHR (@syriahr) March 6, 2020

SOHR and a rebel from the Turkey-backed Failaq al-Sham group said fighting broke out between Syrian government forces and jihadist fighters from the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) in the Jabal al-Zawiya region. Fifteen people were killed, according to the observatory.

22:15 - EU refuses further payment for Turkey migrant deal

European Union governments have decided to not provide additional funding to Turkey under the 2016 migrant deal, criticising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for using refugees for “political purposes” to pressure the bloc, the Financial Times reported.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, following an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Zagreb, called Erdoğan’s move to open Turkey’s border with Greece an “unacceptable way to push for further support.”

Borrell said the union and Turkey disagreed on the implementation of a 2016 refugee deal, where the EU promised to pay six billion euros to Ankara for services for refugees and Turkey would curb the flow of refugees into Europe.

Brussels will pay out the remaining funds, some three billion euros, to specific projects by the end of 2020, Borrell said.

22:00 - Erdoğan calls for revision to EU migrant deal in phone call with Merkel

Migration regulations between Turkey and the European Union have not been functioning and need to be revised, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call on Friday.

Greece, which on Sunday suspended new asylum applications for a month following the arrival of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to its border with Turkey, has thus announced that it will not heed the founding treaties of the EU and the Geneva Convention, President Erdoğan said, which openly violates international law and the values cited in the treaties.

21:45 - First Turkish-Russian patrol in Idlib after Moscow talks

A joint patrol of Turkish and Russian forces was reportedly spotted on the strategic highway M4 in Syria’s Idlib province, amid a ceasefire agreement formed between Ankara and Moscow.

Russian news agency Ruptly posted on Friday of Turkish and Russia military vehicles patrolling the M4 highway, the centre line of a buffer zone between Syrian government forces and Idlib’s rebel groups. The joint patrol mission was initially scheduled to launch on March 15.

17:00 - Turkish observation posts will remain after Idlib ceasefire deal

The 12 Turkish observation points skirting Idlib province will remain after Russia and Turkey struck a ceasefire deal, Erdoğan said during a flight back from Moscow on Friday.

Turkey began constructing the 12 posts, which are manned by soldiers, in 2017. They marked the boundary of a de-escalation zone that Turkey and Russia negotiated in a previous ceasefire deal in 2018.

But a Syrian government’s offensive in the province, backed by Russian air power, left four of the posts surrounded this year, and the “safe zone” that Erdoğan and Putin agreed on in Thursday’s deal has narrowed and increased Syrian government control past the boundaries of the 2018 agreement.

Nevertheless, Erdoğan said, Turkish forces would continue to man the observation posts, and Turkey and Russia would remain in close contact to assure the success of the ceasefire.

16:30 - Erdoğan hails ceasefire that will 'stop Muslims fighting Muslims'

Erdoğan addressed worshippers gathered at Istanbul’s Grand Çamlıca Mosque for Friday prayers after signing a ceasefire deal on Thursday that halted the Turkish operation against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

“We gave our martyrs. Yesterday we finally sat at the table and agreed to a ceasefire that started at midnight,” he said. “Thus this war in which Muslims fought Muslims is over.”

Erdoğan negotiated the deal with Assad’s main backers in Moscow after killing or wounding more than 3,000 Syrian soldiers, by the Turkish Defence Ministry’s count, in retaliation for an attack by the Syrian government that killed 36 Turkish soldiers on Feb. 27.

15:20 - Turkey to activate S-400s in April, Erdoğan says

Turkey will activate its new Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems in April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters on a flight back from Moscow.

“The S-400s are already ours,” Posta newspaper’s Hakan ÇelikErdoğan quoted the president as saying. Erdoğan said Turkish officers were still receiving training to operate the systems.

“We are in full possession on them, they’ve arrived in full, and they will be activated in April,” he said. “But I’ll say it again, if the Americans want to sell us Patriot systems, we’ll buy them.”

The purchase of S-400 systems angered Turkey’s NATO allies, who say the presence of a Russian-built system in an allied country’s defences could grant Moscow access to sensitive information on NATO hardware. 

14:50 - Turkish lira gains after Putin, Erdoğan agree on Syria ceasefire

Turkey’s lira rose on Friday after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed a ceasefire deal for the Syrian enclave of Idlib.

The lira was up 0.5 percent at 6.08 liras per dollar as of 2:23 p.m. local time in Istanbul. The currency had hit a 15-month low of 6.26 per dollar on Monday due to the escalating fighting just the other side of Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria.

14:15 - EU holds emergency meeting on migrants in Zagreb

European Union officials are gathered in Croatia’s capital for an emergency meeting on the crisis sparked when Turkey allowed thousands of migrants free passage to its border with Greece.

Euronews political editor Darren McCaffrey tweeted from the meeting that the union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, had welcomed the Idlib ceasefire deal that Turkey and Russia clinched on Thursday.

McCaffrey said a clear suggestion was made that more European money could be on the table for Turkey to deal with the millions of migrants it hosts.

Earlier Borrell said the issue of money to Turkey would be up for discussion at Friday’s meeting, but said he rejected Turkey’s use of migrants to blackmail the bloc.

“Turkey has a big burden ... and we have to understand that. But at the same time, we cannot accept that migrants are being used as a source of pressure,” he said.

13:24 - U.N. says Syrian civilians should be protected by Russia-Turkey deal

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped Thursday’s deal between Turkey and Russia would end hostilities in Idlib and shield the local population, Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency said on Friday.

“The secretary-general hopes that this agreement will lead to an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities that ensures the protection of civilians in northwest Syria, who have already endured enormous suffering,” his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Guterres also called for a return to the UN-facilitated political process mandated by Security Council Resolution 2254, Dujarric said, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

22:00 - Russia increases quota on Turkish tomatoes after ceasefire agreement

Russia’s Agriculture Ministry increased the quota on tomato imports from Turkey, from 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes a year on Thursday following the meeting between Erdoğan and Putin in which the two leaders agreed on a ceasefire in Idlib.

21:52 - Two Turkish soldiers killed, one wounded in Idlib

Turkish Defence Ministry said two Turkish soldiers were killed and one was wounded by Syrian government forces shelling in Idlib. 

20:35 - Turkey and Russia agree to Syria ceasefire from midnight
Turkey and Russia agreed to implement a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province at midnight Thursday, in an effort to deescalate the violence in the rebel-held enclave.

“We agree to do the following: to stop all hostilities along the existing line of contact, starting with midnight, March 6,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

He said the two countries will also coordinate to create a 12-kilometre-wide security corridor between the north and south of the M4 highway and will conduct joint patrols on the strategic route.

Specific parameters of the functioning of the security corridor will be agreed between the defence ministries of the two countries within a week. Meanwhile, joint patrols will begin on March 15 along the M4 highway from the settlement of Trumba, two kilometres to the west of Saraqeb, to the settlement of Ain al-Havr, Lavrov said.

“We are determined to fight terrorism and eradicate all terrorist groups recognised by the U.N. Security Council, and we agree that there should be no threat to civil infrastructure or civilians,” the Russian envoy added.

The two countries should need to help both refugees internally and displaced persons within Syria return to Syria, he said.

20:22 - Erdoğan says Syrian government violated Idlib ceasefire

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Syrian government had been violating the ceasefire in Idlib and was responsible for the humanitarian crisis in the region. 

"The Syrian regime violated the Idlib agreement and bombed civilians, refugees are fleeing their homes due to these attacks. The regime wants to wipe out the people in the region and drive refugees into Turkey," Erdoğan said.

20:20 - Turkey, Russia agree to work towards ceasefire in Idlib within the Astana process

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Turkey and Russia agreed to work towards a ceasefire in Idlib within the Astana process. 

"We are convinced that we cannot stop fighting international terrorism and following the results of our meeting. We have come up with a document that will be presented by our foreign ministers… I hope that these agreements will help create the foundation to find a way towards de-escalation in the violence in Idlib," Putin said during a press conference.

18:20 - Pompeo says Turkey has right to self-defence

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Turkey had the right to defend itself against the risks from Syria. He said Syrian President Bashar Assad must pull back the fighters from positions around Turkish military observation posts and honour an agreement made with Russia in Sochi in late 2018.

15:20 - One-on-one meeting ends

A one-on-one meeting between the presidents of Turkey and Russia came to an end after 2 hours and 40 minutes. An expanded meeting with their delegations is next on the agenda.

15:00 - Putin starts talks by expressing condolences for Turkish losses
The Russian president started his meeting with Erdoğan with a conciliatory tone by expressing his regret about Turkish deaths in Syria in remarks in front of the media.

Putin said nobody – including the Syrian government – was aware of the Turkish troops’ presence in the area that was bombarded. Turkey’s Defence Ministry has insisted that it notified Russian officials of Turkish movements.

The Russian president said that “direct, personal talks” with Turkey were needed to address the aggravated situation in Idlib, and that these talks were also vital to safeguard Russian-Turkish relations.

(Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS)



The presidents are heading for one-on-one talks before a press conference.

14:50 - Turkey deploys 1,000 police to 'prevent push-backs' on Greek border
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced the deployment of a 1,000-strong fully equipped force of police to “prevent push-backs” of migrants attempting to cross the land border to Greece, Anadolu news agency reported.

"We are bringing fully-equipped special police team of 1,000 throughout the Maritsa River to prevent push-backs," Soylu said in Turkey’s northwestern Edirne province, which borders Greece.

14:35 - Erdoğan arrives for talks with Putin

The Turkish and Russian presidents have met for talks.

"The decisions we will come to will relieve both the region and our country," the Turkish president said after touching down in Moscow.

Putin expressed his regret at the loss of dozens of Turkish lives after the Syrian government's attack a week ago, and said Syrian government forces had experienced considerable losses in the Turkish reprisals.

13:40 - Russia heavily reinforcing Idlib contingent ahead of talks

Russia has been racing to consolidate its military position in Idlib ahead of Putin’s talks with Erdoğan on Thursday, Reuters said, citing flight data and shipping movements.

Reuters’ monitoring of the Bosporus channel showed that Russia had sent five warships towards Syria within six days, exceeding the normal pattern or one or two per week.

These included the Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Makarov frigates whose departure the Russian military announced, but three more warships have followed suit unannounced, Reuters said.

“One is the Orsk, a landing ship capable of carrying 20 tanks, 50 trucks or 45 armoured personnel carriers and up to 400 troops. The others - the Novocherkassk and the Caesar Kunikov - are landing ships that can carry over 300 troops, tanks and armour.”

13:00 - Turkish prosecutors demand life sentences for suspects in Russian ambassador assassination trial

As Erdoğan flies out to meet Putin for crunch talks on Idlib, Turkish prosecutors have demanded life sentences without parole for eight people suspected of involvement in the 2016 assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov.

12:05 - Defence Ministry: 184 Syrian government forces “neutralised” in 24 hours 

Turkey’s Defence Ministry said its forces had neutralised – killed, captured or wounded – 184 Syrian government soldiers in Idlib in the last 24 hours

The ministry added that Turkish forces had destroyed four tanks, five multiple rocket launchers, three anti-tank cannons and eight military vehicles.

12:00 - Erdoğan, Macron discussed Idlib before Moscow visit
Erdoğan held a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the situation in Idlib and migrants before heading to Russia for talks with Putin, Anadolu news agency reported.

European Union leaders view the developments in northwest Syria as crucial since the Turkish president has directly tied Idlib’s fate to Turkey’s policy on migrants, threatening to “open the gates” and allow millions of people free passage to Europe if he does not receive the support he want from the European bloc. 

22:11 - Dutch foreign minister calls for no-fly zone in Syria's Idlib

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok on Wednesday called for de-escalation and a no-fly zone to be established in Syria's Idlib province.

"The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in #Idlib is immense. Another million refugees are forced to flee. That is why I call for de-escalation and talks between the EU, Russia & Turkey about a no-fly zone for Assad above Idlib," Stef Blok said in a tweet. 

21:05 - Eroğan's Russia visit aims for agreement, ceasefire in Idlib - presidential aide

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit to Moscow on Thursday aims to reach an agreement and ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province, Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said. 

"Our main framework heading to Moscow is the urgent signing of a ceasefire within the framework of an agreement on Idlib ,’’ T24 news site quoted Kalın as saying. 

The presidential spokesman also said the condition on the ground must be favourable for safe, voluntary return of refugees to Syria.