Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara and Moscow should resolve differences over the conflict in Syria’s Idlib region without anger after a deadly flare-up in violence challenged the fragile cooperation between the two sides.
The two countries support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year war, but have worked together to contain the bloodshed partially and have forged close defence ties in recent years.
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Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad in the war, while Turkey backs some of the rebels who once aimed to topple him.
An attack by Russian-backed Syrian government forces that killed eight Turkish civil and military personnel on Monday posed the biggest challenge to Russia-Turkey ties since their 2018 deal to stem fighting in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Erdogan told Russian forces on Monday there to “stand aside” while Turkey struck dozens of targets in retaliation. Moscow and Ankara then argued about whether Turkey had told Russia it was sending waves of reinforcements into Idlib.
“There is no need for us to be engaged in a conflict or a serious contradiction with Russia at this stage,” he was quoted by the Turkish media on Tuesday as telling reporters on a flight from Ukraine.
“We will of course sit down and discuss everything. Not with anger, though. Because those who sit down with anger, get up with losses,” Erdogan added.
A Turkish security official told Reuters news agency clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces continued intermittently on Tuesday around Saraqeb, a town 15km (9 miles) east of Idlib city.
Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister has urged Russia to restrain Syrian forces from launching further attacks on the Turkish army positions in Idlib.
“I told my counterpart Sergey Lavrov that the regime was carrying out provocative attacks on our observation posts around Idlib, that we will retaliate if they continue this, and that they need to stop the regime as soon as possible,” Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, after they spoke by phone.
The recent major Syrian government offensive in the region has rattled Ankara, which fears millions of displaced people could be driven towards Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million refugees.
Moscow says it is concerned about the attacks by fighters who control Idlib, the last remaining major rebel stronghold after nearly nine years of war.
On Monday, Turkey retaliated by hitting dozens of targets in Idlib and “neutralising” 76 Syrian government soldiers, the state-owned Anadolu agency quoted Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying.
The Idlib violence has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January.
UN warns of displacement
The United Nations regional spokesman, David Swanson, on Tuesday said 520,000 people had been displaced since the beginning of December and the numbers could swell further.
He added that the latest wave of displacement compounded “an already dire humanitarian situation” that saw more than 400,000 people displaced from the end of April through the end of August, many of them multiple times.
Swanson said the UN was alarmed by the plight of more than three million people – half of whom were transferred there en masse from other parts of Syria that were taken by government forces – who live in Idlib province and the surrounding areas.
Last Saturday, UNICEF, the UN’s children agency, said the violence in Syria has forced 6,500 children to flee daily, and estimated that 1.2 million children “are in desperate need” amid short supplies of food, water and medicine.