Erdogan Warns of Massacre as Syria Summit Ends in Deadlock
Turkey is again warning that a "bloodbath" would result from any Syrian government military offensive on Syria's last rebel stronghold of Idlib.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated that warning Friday as a trilateral summit involving his country and Russia, and hosted by Iran, appeared to end in deadlock over efforts to avert conflict in the Idlib enclave.
"We never want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath," Erdogan said at a news conference with his Russian and Iranian counterparts. "Any attack launched or to be launched on Idlib will result in a disaster, massacre and a very big humanitarian tragedy," Erdogan added.
Syrian forces have been massing around Idlib, backed by Russian air power and naval might. The Tehran summit was touted as the last chance to avoid the looming military operation. Iran and Russia maintain that Damascus is right to deal with terrorist threats.
"Fighting terrorism in Idlib is an unavoidable part of the mission of restoring peace and stability to Syria," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at the press conference, adding, "but this battle must not cause civilians to suffer or lead to a scorched earth policy."
"The legitimate Syrian government has a right and must eventually take control of its entire national territory," Russian President Vladimir Putin said, supporting his Iranian counterpart.
Russian bombers this week started to target Idlib ahead of an expected ground operation. Around 3 million civilians are believed to be trapped in the enclave bordering Turkey.
Erdogan warned that with Turkey hosting millions of Syrian refugees, it cannot take in any others.
"That [Idlib attack] would lead to a humanitarian wave adding to existing refugees, but because of the nature with Idlib, some of these refugees would be people associated with jihadist groups," said political analyst Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based Edam research institution.
"So it represents not only a humanitarian burden on Turkey, but also a very significant security risk going forward," he added. "So that is a scenario Turkey wants to prevent and relies on Russia's support."
At the Tehran summit, Erdogan proposed a cease-fire in which the radical jihadist groups could be disarmed and removed from the region.
Ankara is one of the main backers of the Syrian rebels, developing strong ties with myriad warring opposition groups. Turkey's relations with the opposition made it a key partner with Russia and Iran in their efforts to end the Syrian civil war under the so-called "Astana Process."
Source: Voice of America