Turkish delegation to go to Moscow next week for Idlib talks - foreign minister

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Saturday that a Turkish delegation would head to Moscow on Monday for talks to ease tensions in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, where 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling in one week. 

“We want to solve the Idlib issue with Russia using diplomatic means,” Sabah newspaper quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying to reporters. “If diplomacy does not work, the necessary steps will be taken,” he said, adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already announced Turkey’s roadmap.

Erdoğan said on Wednesday that the Turkish military would strike the Syrian army anywhere, if attacks on Turkish soldiers continued.

Turkey and Russia agreed in 2018 to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib to prevent an offensive by the Syrian government on the last major rebel-held enclave, which is home to 3 million people, including hundreds of thousands displaced from elsewhere in the country. 

Some 800,000 people have fled Idlib to find shelter in areas close to the Turkish border after the Russia-backed Syrian forces last month intensified their assault. Moscow and Damascus say jihadist groups have expanded territories under their control as Turkey failed in driving extremists off Idlib. 

Turkey has been reinforcing its military presence in Idlib since last week, sending armoured vehicles and tanks as well as additional troops. The Turkish military has 12 observation posts in the province built under the 2018 deal with Russia, and Ankara wants Syrian forces to withdraw from areas beyond Turkey’s observation posts.

A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara last week to discuss ways to ease tensions in Idlib but returned on Tuesday without reaching an agreement.