German, French leaders ready to meet Erdoğan, Putin for Idlib talks

(Updates with Merkel and Macron phone call with Erdoğan)

The leaders of Germany and France told Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday they were ready to hold a four-way meeting to try to ease the escalating conflict in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron held a joint phone call with Putin and another with Erdoğan, media said.

Merkel and Macron called for an immediate end to combat operations in Idlib and unhindered humanitarian access to the nearly 1 million people who have fled the fighting to areas near the Turkish border. 

“They also expressed their readiness to meet with President Putin and Turkish President Erdoğan to find a political solution to the crisis,” Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency quoted German government spokesman Steffen Seibert as saying in their call with Putin.

Merkel and Macron also held a joint call with Erdoğan on Friday to discuss Idlib. Erdoğan asked the German and French leaders to take concrete action to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Sabah newspaper said

Turkey and Syria agreed to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib in 2018, but now accuse each other of violating the terms of the deal. Turkey says Russia should ensure the withdrawal of Syrian forces from areas of Idlib where Turkey has observation posts, while Russia says Turkey has failed to remove jihadist fighters from the zone and is backing rebel groups that Moscow sees as terrorists.

Russian and Turkish delegations have met twice this month to try to agree on a compromise on Idlib, which is home to 3 million people, many of them displaced from elsewhere in Syria. A third meeting between two countries is expected to take place in the coming days.

Turkey has threatened to launch a military operation in Idlib, unless the Syrian government withdraws its troops.