Vigorous Urge From Turkey’s Erdogan To Rescue Idlib From Russia-Iran-Assad Offensive In The Pipeline

Fuad Muxtarlı Media Roundup 12 September 2018
Vigorous Urge From Turkey’s Erdogan To Rescue Idlib From Russia-Iran-Assad Offensive In The Pipeline

Turkish President Erdogan has thrown his weight behind rescuing Idlib, Syrian province on border and home to almost 3m civilians, from bombardments of the Russian, Iranian and Syrian armies. He urged the West including the U.S. to join hands in stopping a possible attack on Idlib.

“All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense. We cannot leave the Syrian people to the mercy of Bashar Assad. The purpose of a regime offensive against Idlib would be indiscriminate attacks to wipe out its opposition - not a genuine or effective campaign against terrorism. A regime assault would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond,” President Erdogan wrote in an article published by The Wall Street Journal

The Tehran summit of the Russian, Iranian and Turkish presidents just a few days ago laid bare the contradictions among these countries, which played a crucial role in halting bloodshed and further deterioration of the Syrian conflict. However, following defeats of pockets of resistance across the country and the ongoing massive bombardment of the Russian army paved the way for Assad to regain control over strategic parts of the war-torn country. Iran played and is determined to play a crucial role in keeping Assad in power and strengthen its presence in this Arab nation.

Russian state-owned RT TV channel in its “Peering into the abyss” TV talk show, aired on September 12, kept focus on the Syrian army’s determination to liberate the country from all possible terrorist groups. “The Syrian Arab Army is determined to liberate Idlib and to eliminate the terrorists there – essentially ending this international proxy war”. It also added that the U.S. and its regional allies are dead set against this, asking why the Trump administration is siding with terrorists.

In the meantime, Turkey’s vigorous urge to the international community proved to trigger reactions. The U.S. on Tuesday blasted Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime amid a growing military offensive in northwestern Syria's Idlib province.

U.S. vows tough response

The U.S. on Tuesday warned Russia and the Syrian regime against any potential offensive on the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib.

"We would hold them responsible and we would hold them accountable for that, most especially for the use of chemical weapons,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“We would encourage Russia to make this point very clear to Damascus, that that will not be tolerated," she added.

In another reaction to the attack on Idlib, U.S.’s UN envoy Nikki Haley in remarks before the Security Council said that “Russia, Iran and Assad are demolishing Idlib and asking us to call it peace”.

Since the beginning of September, at least 30 civilians have been killed in Idlib and Hama, and dozens injured, by airstrikes and attacks by the regime and Russian warplanes, according to the White Helmets civil defense agency.

The UN warned Monday at least 30,000 residents in Idlib have been displaced in the first nine days of this month amid a Russian and regime air campaign there.

Haley blamed Russia and the regime for allegedly carrying out more than 100 airstrikes, some of which she said were "ruthless double tap" strikes targeting first responders. “It is a disgusting tactic of terrorists, not professional soldiers,” she said.

She alleged Moscow, Tehran and Damascus are not interested in pursuing a political solution to the Syrian crisis, saying “Turkey learned this lesson last week” during trilateral talks in the Iranian capital.

“The United States is long past taking Russia and Iran at their word that they are interested in protecting civilians in Idlib from further violence," she said. "If Assad, Russia, and Iran continue down the path they are on, the consequences will be dire. The world will hold them responsible. And no number of Security Council meetings will ever change that.” 

Russian reaction

Russia's UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzia defended the deteriorating security situation in Idlib, which is an established "de-escalation zone" as part of the trilateral talks.

"Sooner or later," Nebenzia said, such areas "were to be replaced first by local truces, and in cases where that did not take place, a counter-terrorist operation.” 

“The Astana process is ongoing, and with the help of the process we will have tangible results,” he said, referring to the trilateral process with Iran and Turkey.

Last week, the UN warned an offensive on Idlib would likely lead to the “worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century”.

Britain backs Turkey

Britain’s UN ambassador "strongly" agreed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday amid a mounting offensive on northwestern Syria's Idlib province.

“We strongly agree with President Erdogan,” Karen Pierce told the UN Security Council citing an op-ed penned by Erdogan. He on Monday said in the Wall Street Journal: “All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense.”

“A regime assault in Idlib would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond,” she added.

She noted the regime's criminal acts - arbitrary arrests, systematic torture, summary executions, barrel bombs, chemical and conventional weapons - which targeted Syrians for seven years.

"As a result of the Syrian civil war, which the United Nations Human Rights Council calls ‘the worst man-made disaster since World War II’, millions of innocent people have become refugees or have been internally displaced," she said.

She also noted Turkey's role in protecting the Syrian people, as it hosts the largest number of refugees in the world at 3.5 million.

Pierce said the council faces "a choice", between a Syrian regime and Russian "military assault on Idlib in which, as many colleagues have said today, thousands of civilians will die," or "we allow Turkey and opposition groups the support, space and time to separate out the terrorists and tackle them themselves.

"Turkey has a plan, Madam President, in Idlib and it does involve reaching an agreement with the Syrian opposition whereby the regime refrains from attacking them while they combat terrorism," she said referring to Nikki Haley, the U.S.'s UN envoy and council president.

"This is what we should be discussing today, Madam President, but I think it has been absent from the briefing we received from Russia just now," Pierce added.

Turkey concerned

A possible attack on Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib will sabotage the ongoing political process and cause a serious crisis of confidence, the Turkish presidential spokesman said on Tuesday. Ibrahim Kalin’s remarks came after a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Syrian regime recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which remains under the control of various armed opposition groups. Earlier on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Ministry said that the representatives of guarantor countries - Turkey, Russia, and Iran – met UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura on September 10-11 in Geneva.

“During the meeting, they discussed the formation of a constitutional committee and its codes of practice which constitute an important step in the struggle of finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

UN cautions

The UN Assistant Secretary General on Tuesday voiced concern over the growing tension in northwestern Syria. "I am deeply worried over the recent escalation of hostilities in northwest Syria, resulting in the new displacement during the past few days of over 30,000 women, children and men and scores of civilian deaths," Panos Moumtzis said in a statement.

Moumtzis, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said currently there are some 6.2m internally displaced people inside Syria. "A further escalation of military operations in Idlib and surrounding areas will not only endanger civilian live in this densely populated area, but will severely impact humanitarian partners’ ability to deliver life-saving assistance," he said.