Turkey refuses Russian ‘excuse’ over Syria strikes

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Turkey’s foreign minister on Friday said Ankara did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that Syria would not listen to Moscow and stop regime strikes in Idlib province.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘we cannot make ourselves listened to by the regime’,” he said.

Turkey and Russia have worked closely to find a political solution under the Astana process to the eight-year conflict despite being on opposing sides of the war.

While Ankara has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster and backed opposition fighters, Moscow has provided support to the Damascus regime.

Turkey, as part of the Astana talks, is the guarantor for Syrian rebels. Cavusoglu said there had been “no issues” from the moderate opposition.

But Damascus had sent radical groups to Idlib from Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Hama with their weapons, the minister charged.

“We knew in the future after other areas had been captured, the regime would attack Idlib using the excuse of the radical groups’ presence after sending them there,” he said.

There was disagreement over whether a ceasefire had been secured in Idlib this week after Moscow’s announcement on Wednesday. The following day Cavusoglu said a complete ceasefire had not been secured in the northwestern province.

Idlib is intended to be protected from a major regime assault under a buffer zone deal agreed on by Russia and Turkey in September but it was never fully implemented.

In recent weeks, hundreds have been killed after increased bombardment by Damascus and Moscow in the province, which is home to three million people.

Ankara says Turkish soldiers have also been wounded in two separate incidents in May and again on Thursday in deliberate attacks by the regime on Turkish observation posts in Idlib.

Russia and Turkey made conflicting claims over Thursday’s attack with Moscow claiming it was the work of “terrorists” and that it had responded with air strikes.

Turkey’s defense ministry denied the claim, saying that the incorrect “press reports” that it provided coordinates to the Russians “do not reflect the reality”.

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