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US, Turkish officials talk Idlib offensive, Kurdish militias in northern Syria

By AFP - Sep 05,2018 - Last updated at Sep 05,2018

Fighters of the National Liberation Front prepare in anticipation of an attack by the regime on Idlib province and the surrounding countryside, near Idlib, on Monday (AFP photo)

ANKARA — The US envoy for Syria was in Ankara on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments in the war-torn country with Turkish officials as an offensive against rebel-held Idlib appeared imminent.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar discussed the Syrian war with James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syria engagement, the Turkish defence ministry said in a statement, but gave no further details about the content of the meeting.

The two men also discussed Kurdish militants in the region, the ministry added.

Akar and Jeffrey met as Russian warplanes battered Syria’s rebel-controlled Idlib for the first time in three weeks as expectations grow over a regime offensive.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said on Monday that the two would discuss Idlib.

Ankara has kept a close eye on the possibility of the Idlib offensive.

Cavusoglu warned Russia last month that seeking a military solution in Idlib would cause a “catastrophe” and trigger a new flow of refugees across Turkey’s borders.

The presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran are due to meet in Tehran on Friday for a tripartite summit likely to focus on Idlib.

Although Ankara has repeatedly called for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to be ousted, Turkey has been working closely with regime allies Russia and Iran to end the conflict.

Meanwhile, Turkish and Russian officials have held several rounds of talks hoping to avert an assault on Idlib.

Jeffrey’s visit comes after a bitter spat last month between Ankara and Washington over the detention of an American pastor.

But relations have also been strained over US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria viewed as terrorists by Turkey.

The defence ministry said that, in their meeting, Akar and Jeffrey also discussed Ankara’s “discomfort” with the presence of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Ankara says the PYD and YPG are “terrorist” offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union.

“It was stated that it was necessary for the separatist terrorist organisation to leave the region completely,” the defence ministry said, referring to the PKK.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russia resumed its air strikes against insurgents in Idlib after 22 days, following weeks of aerial bombardment and shelling against rebels by pro-Syrian government forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has sworn to recapture every inch of Syria and has made big gains against rebels since Russia joined his war effort in 2015.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran, which also backs Assad, was making efforts to remove militants from Idlib with the least human cost.

US President Donald Trump warned Assad and his allies on Monday not to “recklessly attack” Idlib, saying hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Russia, however, dismissed the comments and said the area was a “nest of terrorism”.

The trip to Ankara is the first by Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Turkey, and comes after he visited Jordan and Israel at the weekend.

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