Turkey, Russia, Iran summit seeks peace in Syria’s Idlib

The presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran gather in Ankara on Monday in an effort to secure a lasting truce in northwest Syria following attacks by the Bashar Assad government that risk expanding the conflict and pushing a new wave of migrants into Turkey, Reuters reported

The summit in the Turkish capital will focus on Idlib, the last rebel-held province, where a Russian-backed Syrian offensive has since late April killed more than 1,000 civilians and driven more than half a million people toward the Turkish border.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani have backed Assad against the rebels, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has supported different rebel factions in the conflict. The leaders are expected to hold bilateral talks before meeting together in advance of a joint news conference.

Under a deal with Moscow, Turkey set up 12 observation posts in and around Idlib to curb fighting between Syrian forces and rebels, but the posts have been caught in the crossfire several times in the past few months. On Friday, Erdoğan warned that any Syrian attack on the posts would draw retaliation from Turkish forces.

“The moment that the regime messes with our observation posts, if there is any attack, then things will take a very different direction," he told Reuters in an interview. “We will not hold back like we are now. We will take any necessary steps.”

While Putin and Erdoğan have forged close ties over energy and defence cooperation, attacks by Syrian troops have strained relations.

The fighting in Idlib has also raised the risk of a new migrant wave entering Turkey, which already hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees. The UN has said that more than 500,000 people have been displaced in Idlib, with most heading for the border.

Erdoğan has threatened to “open the gates” for refugees to enter Europe should the Idlib displaced enter Turkey, and plans to return one million refugees to a safe zone the United States and Turkey are creating in northeast Syria. 

On Sunday, Syrian forces shelled south Idlib, according to rescuers and residents, Reuters said. 

On Saturday, Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group launched drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil installations, which Washington blamed on Iran.