Turkey’s military presence the only guarantee to prevent Idlib assault - Presidential spokesperson

Syrian regime’s any attack in last rebel-held enclave İdlib in northwest Syria will undermine the Astana agreement between Turkey, Russia, and Iran and Turkey’s military presence in Idlib is the only guarantee to prevent the expected offensive, Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said on Saturday in Daily Sabah. 

Idlib became the destination of last resort for Syrian opposition civilians and fighters after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces defeated and took over rebel enclaves around the country. An estimated 3 million Syrians are currently trapped in the province, around a third of whom are thought to be refugees displaced from other parts of the country.

While rumours have emerged that Sep. 10 had been chosen as the date of the assault of the Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran, the presidents of the Astana process's three guarantor countries met on Friday in the Iranian capital of Tehran to discuss a roadmap for Idlib, which had been delineated as a de-escalation zone.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proposed to work to ensure a ceasefire in Idlib on Friday during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Putin dismissed the idea by stressing that jihadi terrorist groups in Idlib would not agree to a ceasefire and noted that the Syrian government had the right to regain control over all of its territory.

İbrahim Kalın on Saturday accused major players of doing almost nothing to stop the war in Syria, which, he said, had turned into a scene of a global proxy war between global and regional powers.

“They watched the Syrian people caught between the twin monsters of the war: the ruthless Assad regime that has killed thousands of its own people and the terrorists of different brands,” Kalın said listing Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS], Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People's Protection Units (YPG) as groups also responsible of the destruction of Syrian territories.

Turkey sees PYD and YPG as an extension of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group which has been fighting inside Turkey since 1984. Eliminating a potential Kurdish autonomous region in Syria has been a top priority shaping Turkey’s Syrian policy, which damaged Turkey’s ties with United State, as the latter views YPG as a crucial ally in its fight against ISIS.

Kalın also said that United States, Russia, and Iran had used ISIS to justify their policies in Syria and, as a result, they all had weakened the moderate Syrian opposition groups both militarily and politically.

“The world once again has done very little to prevent the current quagmire around Idlib,” Kalın added, except threats of attacks to prevent Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, which according to Kalın, is “another way of saying that the regime can continue its carnage with conventional weapons.”

Kalın noted that Turkey has 12 military posts in Idlib established under the Astana Agreement. “The presence of Turkish soldiers there is probably the only guarantee to prevent any major assault because the Russian jet fighters and the regime ground forces cannot afford attacks while Turkish soldiers are there; we know that they do not care about civilians and legitimate, moderate opposition forces,” he said. 

“Any attack on Idlib in the name of eliminating terrorist groups would undermine the Astana process,” Kalın warned.