Turkey asks Russia to step aside in Syria
Russia says two sides agreed to reduce tensions in Idlib while continuing military action there
A relative of Turkish soldier Emin Yildirim, who died in an airstrike in the Syrian town of Idlib, mourns over his coffin during his funeral ceremony in Akcurun village in Turkey. Photograph: Sedat Suna/ EPA
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had asked president Vladimir Putin for Russia to step aside in Syria and leave Turkey to deal with Syrian government forces alone, after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed this week.
Government forces, backed by Russian air power, have waged a major assault to capture the northwest province of Idlib, the last remaining territory held by rebels backed by Turkey.
Syrian and Russian warplanes on Saturday kept up air strikes on the Idlib city of Saraqeb, the Syrian Observatory war monitor reported. The strategic city sits on a key international roadway and has been a flashpoint of fighting in recent days.
With diplomacy sponsored by Ankara and Moscow to ease tensions in tatters, Turkey has come closer than ever to confrontation with Russia on the battlefield.
Turkish strikes using drones and smart missiles late on Friday that hit Hezbollah headquarters near Saraqeb killed nine of its members and wounded 30 in one of the bloodiest attacks on the Iran-backed group in Syria ever according to a commander in the regional alliance backing Damascus.
The Observatory said 48 pro-Damascus troops in all had been killed by Turkish strikes over the past 24 hours.
Speaking in Istanbul, Erdogan said he had told Putin in a phone call to stand aside and let Turkey “to do what is necessary” with the Syrian government alone.
He said Turkey does not intend to leave Syria right now.
“We did not go there because we were invited by (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad). We went there because we were invited by the people of Syria. We don’t intend to leave before the people of Syria, ‘okay, this is done,” Erdogan added.
As tensions rose, Russia and Turkey have held three rounds of talks, the first two of which did not yield a ceasefire.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that the two sides agreed in this week’s talks to reduce tensions on the ground in Idlib while continuing military action there.
After the death of its soldiers in a Syrian government air strike on Thursday, Turkey said it would allow migrants it hosts to freely pass to Europe.
Mr Erdogan said in Istanbul on Saturday that 18,000 migrants has crossed the border, without providing evidence, adding that the number could rise to 25,000-30,000 on Saturday.
Greek police fired teargas toward migrants who were gathered on its border with Turkey and demanding entry on Saturday.
“We will not close these doors in the coming period and this will continue. Why? The European Union needs to keep its promises. We don’t have to take care of this many refugees, to feed them,” he said.
He complained the funds transferred to Turkey from the European Union to support refugees were arriving too slowly and that he had asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to send the funds directly to the Turkish government.
Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants under an accord between Turkey and the European Union that halted the 2015-16 migration crisis when more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot.–Reuters