The leaders of Turkey and Russia met Friday with their Iranian counterpart to reach a consensus on Syria’s last opposition-held province.
Ankara and Moscow back opposing sides in the northwest province of Idlib – the former the armed opposition, and the latter the government troops poised for an offensive to retake the province.
Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a senior aide to Iran’s foreign minister, told state TV on Thursday the final statement for the summit had already been “finalized” by senior representatives of the three countries. If approved by the three presidents, it will be issued after the meeting, Mehr News Agency reported.
The Tehran meeting comes against the backdrop of US sanctions against all three participating countries. While Idlib is expected to top the agenda, the trio are also expected to discuss mechanisms for minimizing the impact of US financial pressure.
“Turkey has limited options but to concede to Russia on Idlib given the diplomatic row with Washington and the recent US decision to solidify Kurdish control of northern Syria,” said Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Washington-based Arab Center.
“Turkey will have to decide in this summit whether to join the battle and influence it, or stay put and let the Russians and Iranians lead it. There is a lot at stake in what could arguably be the last territorial battle of the Syrian civil war,” he told Asia Times.
Syria’s prime minister Imad Khamis, in a Thursday speech in Damascus, vowed the opposition-held province “will soon return to the embrace of the homeland.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, in anticipation of a destructive offensive, has called on all parties to protect civilians in Idlib – many of whom fled government offensives in other parts of the country and have scarce means to sustain their families through another displacement.
“Intensified fighting in the vast Idlib area will put tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the move,” Fabrizzio Carboni, regional director for the Near and Middle East, said in a statement.
Residents in southern Idlib told Asia Times they witnessed multiple air strikes Friday, which they believed to be Russian. A ground incursion has yet to begin.
Al-Ais crossing, the gateway for trade between government-held southern Aleppo province and opposition-held territory bordering Idlib, remained open as of Friday morning, locals said.