Four-way Syria talks kick off in Istanbul

Meeting to address numerous issues in the conflict, including demilitarised zones and a political path forward.

Syria summit in Istanbul
The meeting comes amid multiple fatalities in the Syrian civil war, which appears to be coming to an end [Murat Kula/Reuters]

A four-way summit on Syria attended by the leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France has begun in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The meeting on Saturday, hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will see the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special Syria envoy, is also attending the summit, which is expected to be followed by a joint statement. 

Participants were expected to address the Syrian conflict in all its aspects, focusing on the situation on the ground, the Idlib agreement, and the political process, and to harmonise joint efforts to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

Leaders had one-on-one talks ahead of the meeting.

‘Diplomatic win’

Al Jazeera’s Zena Khodr, reporting from Istanbul, said “Russia and Turkey are billing this as a diplomatic win because they were able to bring the EU to the table”.

The leaders will also discuss the September 17 agreement between Ankara and Moscow to establish a demilitarised zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.

Under the deal, opposition groups in Idlib are to remain in areas where they are already present, while Russia and Turkey carry out joint patrols in the area with a view to preventing a resumption of fighting.

Germany announced that it supports the de-escalation zone in Idblib ahead and would work towards a permanent ceasefire, a spokesperson for Merkel said ahead of the summit.

Idlib and adjacent areas are the last stronghold of rebels who rose up against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

The area is home to roughly three million people, more than half of whom have already been displaced during the war.

On October 10, the Turkish defence ministry announced that the Syrian opposition groups had completed the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the Idlib demilitarised zone.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating seven-year conflict that started when the Assad government cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

Latest of many summits

There have been numerous talks meant to foster peace between the warring factions in Syria, dating back to 2011.

Talks have been sponsored by the Arab League and its various members, by Russia, France, Turkey and Iran, and by the UN through its set of Geneva summits.

The Geneva talks, supported by the European Union were largely indirect dialogues between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition factions. The most recent Geneva talks were held in March 2017. 

Turkey, Russia and Iran sponsored the Astana talks in January 2017, which saw negotiations move to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The most recent Astana talks were held in March.

Russia entered the Syrian war on the side of the government in 2015 as Damascus looked ready to fall [Sergei Chirikov/Pool via Reuters]
Russia entered the Syrian war on the side of the government in 2015 as Damascus looked ready to fall [Sergei Chirikov/Pool via Reuters]

Further dialogue under the same framework occurred in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, the most recent of which took place in July. These talks resulted in Syrian forces and their backers stalling an offensive on Idlib. 

The EU saw a wave of refugees arrive at its shores in 2015, is concerned about another influx of asylum seekers should Syrian forces attack Idlib.

Russia, who supports the Syrian government, and Turkey, who supports rebels and hosts over three million Syrian refugees, want the EU to help pay for post-war reconstruction in the battered country.

“Europe wants the Geneva” path to continue, Khodr said. “If that doesn’t happen the EU won’t pay for reconstruction,” she added.

Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that Syrian forces “violated” the Sochi agreement by attacking and Rafa village in the Idlib de-escalation zone on Friday. The attacks killed seven civilians, three of whom were children, Anadolu reported. 

The Associated Press said that fighters affiliated with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, killed 40 US-backed Syrian fighters on Saturday.

Parties are hedging expectations about the summit, Khodr said. “Even Moscow is saying do not expect breakthroughs during the summit.” 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies