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May 14 2019

Syrian government aims to harm Turkish-Russian ties with Idlib attacks, Erdoğan says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the Syria government was targeting Turkey’s cooperation with Russia with ceasefire violations in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, the last major rebel-held area in Syria, the Turkish president's communications director said.

Turkey and Russia agreed in Astana in September to create a de-escalation zone in Idlib in order to allow the return of thousands of displaced Syrians to their homes. But media reports say the ceasefire has been violated many times by both armed groups and the Syrian army in recent weeks.

Three hospitals were bombed on May 11 in Idlib and Hama, bringing the total to 16 in the past two weeks alone, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, a coalition of humanitarian, non-governmental, and medical organisations from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Erdoğan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said the president had spoken with Putin on the telephone on Monday evening.

"Our president pointed out that the regime's aim was to sabotage Turkish-Russian cooperation in Idlib and to undermine the spirit of Astana,” Altun said.

Erdoğan also said the attacks undermined the establishment of a committee to draw up a new constitution.

Erdoğan told Putin that ceasefire violations by the Syrian government in Idlib had reached worrying levels and it was impossible to explain the attacks as counter-terrorism measures given the targeting and destruction of schools and hospitals, Altun said.

Following Erdoğan's conversation with Putin, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart also discussed by phone developments in Idlib and measures to reduce tension in the area, the Turkish Defence Ministry said.