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Erdogan, Putin discuss Syria as Turkey demands truce in Idlib

Reyhanli, Turkey – The presidents of Turkey and Russia have “voiced concern” about the escalation of tensions in northwest Syria, a day after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in air raids by Moscow-backed Syrian government forces. Friday’s phone call between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin came as refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria’s…

Erdogan, Putin discuss Syria as Turkey demands truce in Idlib

Reyhanli, Turkey – The presidents of Turkey and Russia have “voiced concern” about the escalation of tensions in northwest Syria, a day after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in air raids by Moscow-backed Syrian government forces.
Friday’s phone call between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin came as refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria’s Idlib province continued to flock to the border with Turkey, carrying stories of horror and hardship. “Death is all around,” one Syrian man who managed to cross over told Al Jazeera.
Nearly a million people have been forced from their homes in Idlib since the Syrian government launched its offensive to capture the province from Turkey-backed opposition forces in December – a crisis the United Nations has called a “man-made humanitarian nightmare”.
The rapid advance of the Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airpower, and the deaths of the 33 Turkish troops on Thursday have raised fears of a direct military confrontation between Ankara and Moscow. The toll from Thursday’s attack was the biggest military loss Ankara has suffered in one day since it intervened in Syria in 2016.
As tensions escalated, Erdogan and Putin spoke on the phone at Turkey’s initiative, according to the Kremlin.
“Both sides reaffirmed that it was necessary to adopt additional measures in order to normalise the situation in northwestern Syria,” the Kremlin said. “They agreed to step up the corresponding interagency consultations and to examine the possibility of soon holding a meeting at the highest level.”
A summit could take place between the two leaders as early as next week, a spokesman for Putin said afterwards. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Turkey’s foreign ministry said Ankara demanded a “sustainable truce, de-escalation and withdrawal of Syrian government forces” at talks with a Russian delegation in Ankara. 
Turkey ‘strikes 200 targets’
Turkey and Russia, although supporting opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, maintain diplomatic relations that have been repeatedly tested since the Syrian government’s offensive on Idlib, the last major opposition stronghold in the country.
Earlier this month, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad captured the arterial M5 highway, which links all of the country’s major cities and six provinces, and consolidated control over Aleppo province. This has come at a heavy cost to the Turkish military, which has 12 observation posts in the region under a 2017 and 2018 “de-escalation zone” agreement with Russia.
Some of these positions now lie in areas seized by the Syrian government.
Speaking in Ankara on Friday, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said his country’s military had responded to the Syrian government attack by striking 200 of their targets from the air and ground. Some 309 Syrian troops were “neutralised”, he said. Among the targets were Syrian government helicopters, military tanks, armoured vehicles, howitzers and ammunition depots.
“This attack [on Turkish soldiers] occurred even though the locations of our troops had been coordinated with Russian officials in the field,” he said. The Russian foreign ministry, denied the claim, saying: “Turkish soldiers who were in the battle formations of terrorists came under the fire of Syrian troops.”

Meanwhile, following an emergency NATO meeting in Brussels, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Syria and Russia to “stop the indiscriminate air attacks” and to “fully engage in UN-led efforts for a peaceful political solution”.
“We also call on Russia and the Syrian regime to fully respect international law,” Stoltenberg said, before adding that the meeting was “an expression of support” for NATO ally Turkey. 
The European Union also weighed in, warning any escalation could lead to a “major open international military confrontation”.
“It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said in a Twitter post. “EU calls on all sides for rapid de-escalation and regrets all loss of life.” The tweet came as some Turkish officials warned the EU the situation in Idlib could result in a new mass flow of refugees and migrants towards Europe.
France backed Turkey, while the United Kingdom called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the escalating frictions.
‘Crisis containment mode’
But despite Turkey’s anger at Assad’s forces, Ankara was unlikely to seek a confrontation with Moscow, according to Galip Dalay, a political analyst and non-resident fellow at Brookings Institute in Doha, Qatar.
The phone call between Erdogan and Putin signals Turkey was “in a crisis containment mode with Russia,” Dalay told Al Jazeera. And unless Turkey obtained a strong commitment from the United States and NATO – such as the imposition of no-fly zone arrangement over Idlib – Ankara would follow a strategy of raising the cost of the war for Moscow by striking Syrian government forces.
“Turkey will continue to target the Syrian regime but will be very careful in terms of targeting Russia,” he said. “Turkey will most likely increase its geographic scope when it comes to targeting Syrian regime forces beyond Idlib, which may expand to Aleppo and east of the Euphrates. But it will do so in a way that will not completely destroy its relations with Russia.”
In Reyhanli, a town on the Turkish side of the border, some Syrians said the tensions in Idlib was exacting a heavy price of civilians.
“People are dying,” said Maher Arjah, who crosses the Syria-Turkey border frequently for work and had arrived in Reyhanli on Friday. “Last seven months have gone from bad to worse. We heard the shelling last night, it was very loud.”

Maher Arjah said ‘death is all around’ in Syria’s Idlib [Linah Alsaafin/ Al Jazeera]

Abdel Aziz Abed, a doctor in Aleppo, a province neighbouring Idlib, said there was a shortage of medical supplies in overcrowded refugee camps in the region, while the hospital he used to work at had been destroyed in an air raid.
According to the UN, at least 299 civilians have been killed, most of them in Syrian government air raids, since January 1.
Abdullah Hussein, member of the Syria civil defence group, also known as the White Helmets, said the situation in Idlib is “disastrous in every meaning of the word”. He put the toll higher at 372.
“The people there are running out of choices of what to do,” he told Al Jazeera from his office in Reyhanli. “The Syrian government shelling, backed by Russian warplanes, has targeted even the main roads that the civilians are using to flee different towns and villages. So, they face either staying in their homes or going to the borders where getting a tent there is not even guaranteed.”
Hussein, who frequently travels back and forth to Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, said he saw families on the streets on the Syrian side of the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“With the advancement of Syrian forces towards the highland Mount Zawiya area in the last two days, people there have abandoned their villages and towns,” he said, referring to a region in southern Idlib province.
“Our teams and medical relief groups can’t even access the area due to the severity of the aerial bombardment there.”
Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed and Umut Uras in Doha, Qatar.
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Erdogan

Erdogan willing to meet Greek PM over east Med tensions |NationalTribune.com

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is ready to meet with Greece’s leader to resolve the standoff over energy exploration in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean. The search for gas and oil in the region has sparked a dispute that has seen the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and navy drills in strategic…

Erdogan willing to meet Greek PM over east Med tensions |NationalTribune.com

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is ready to meet with Greece’s leader to resolve the standoff over energy exploration in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
The search for gas and oil in the region has sparked a dispute that has seen the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and navy drills in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.
“Could there be a meeting with Greek Prime Minister (Kyriakos) Mitsotakis? What’s essential is what we discuss and in what framework,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul after Friday prayers.
“We can meet if there is goodwill. We can talk via videoconference or meet in a third country,” Erdogan said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later on Friday said Greek Ambassador Michael-Christos Diamessi had been summoned to the foreign ministry in Ankara over an item in the Dimokratia newspaper.
The words “F*** off Mr. Erdogan” appeared in Turkish and English next to a photo of the president in the Greek newspaper.
“A Greek newspaper had a vile front page,” Cavusoglu said in Ankara. “We summoned the Greek ambassador to the ministry,” he added, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.
At the centre of the Greece-Turkey dispute was Ankara’s deployment last month of a seismic research vessel, the Oruc Reis, and an accompanying fleet of warships in disputed waters near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Turkish officials ended the month-long mission and ordered the vessel back to shore last weekend for maintenance and replenishment.
Erdogan also signalled Oruc Reis would return to its work, while also saying its withdrawal was deliberate.
“If we pulled Oruc Reis back to the port for maintenance, it has a meaning,” he said.
“It means: ‘Let’s give a chance to diplomacy, let’s show a positive approach.'”
‘Open to dialogue’
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Prague on Friday said Greece believed “a dialogue should start and that international law should not be violated. Of course in this area nobody should try to prevail by force”.
He added Greece was “always open to a dialogue with Turkey as regards coastal waters in the exclusive economic zone, provided that Turkey stops its provocative acts in the area”.
Turkey’s Yavuz drillship, meanwhile, will continue its search for oil and gas off Cyprus until October 12 despite international calls to withdraw.
Ankara’s dispute with Athens has sparked a crisis that has drawn in some European Union member states, particularly France which sent navy vessels and fighter jets to the region in support of Greece.
EU leaders are due to discuss possible sanctions against Ankara at their meeting on September 24-25.
“We would like our partners and friends in the EU to draft a list of sanctions which should not be imposed on Turkey immediately but rather serve as an example of sanctions that could be imposed on Turkey if it doesn’t stop its unlawful acts,” Dendias said.
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Erdogan: Turkey will make no concessions in eastern Mediterranean |NationalTribune.com

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned he would make “no concessions” in the eastern Mediterranean and that Ankara is determined to do whatever is necessary to obtain its rights in the Black Sea, Aegean and Mediterranean. Speaking at an event on Wednesday commemorating the 11th-century military victory by Seljuk Turks over the Byzantine empire…

Erdogan: Turkey will make no concessions in eastern Mediterranean |NationalTribune.com

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned he would make “no concessions” in the eastern Mediterranean and that Ankara is determined to do whatever is necessary to obtain its rights in the Black Sea, Aegean and Mediterranean.
Speaking at an event on Wednesday commemorating the 11th-century military victory by Seljuk Turks over the Byzantine empire at Malazgirt, Erdogan also called on Turkey’s counterparts to avoid mistakes that he said would bring their destruction.
“We don’t have our eye on someone else’s territory, sovereignty and interests, but we will make no concessions on that which is ours,” Erdogan said, urging Greece to “avoid wrongs that will be the path to ruin”.
“We will not compromise what is ours… We are determined to do whatever is necessary.”
Later on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told lawmakers Greece planned to extend the western limit of its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from six to 12 miles.
Mitsotakis said Italy and Albania had been officially informed about the plan and a bill on the matter would be submitted to parliament very soon.
Such a measure does not affect the Aegean region, off Greece’s eastern and southern coasts, where Turkey has previously warned a similar move by Athens would be a “casus belli”, or cause for war.
Mitsotakis also said his country could eventually extend its territorial waters in other maritime areas where the distance between the two shores is smaller than 24 miles.
‘Honest mediation’
Tensions over energy resources escalated between Turkey and Greece after Ankara sent its Oruc Reis survey vessel to disputed eastern Mediterranean waters this month, a move Athens has called illegal.
“Greece will defend in the name of law its sovereignty and sovereign rights,” the country’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said. “Greece will defend its national and European borders. It does not have any other choice but to do so.”

Germany has sought to mediate between Ankara and Athens.
On Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece said they wanted to solve the matter through dialogue following separate talks with their German counterpart, Heiko Maas.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Turkey had called Greece “a spoiled child that has unconditional support from the European Union”, and had also stressed the importance of why honest mediation is necessary for dialogue.
“Turkey says it is open to dialogue with Greece only if there is a fair distribution of rights in the eastern Mediterranean,” Koseoglu said.
“But if Athens continues to present conditions for dialogue and doesn’t give up its uncompromising approach in the region, Ankara says a real conflict may become unavoidable.” 

What’s behind rising tensions in Eastern Mediterranean?

Military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean
Meanwhile, France is joining military exercises with Italy, Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Wednesday.
“The eastern Mediterranean is turning into an area of tension. Respect for international law must be the rule and not the exception,” Parly said on Twitter, adding that it “should not be a playground for the ambitions of some”.
Three Rafale fighter jets and a warship equipped with a helicopter will be part of the joint military exercises, she said.
Relations between France and Turkey have soured in recent months over Ankara’s actions in NATO, Libya and the Mediterranean.
President Emmanuel Macron has called for the EU to show solidarity with Greece and Cyprus in the dispute over natural gas reserves off Cyprus and the extent of their continental shelves and pushed for further sanctions at EU level, although there are divisions in the bloc over the issue.
“Our message is simple: Priority to dialogue, cooperation and diplomacy so that the eastern Mediterranean becomes an area of stability and respect for international law,” Parly said.
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Turkey’s Erdogan says Egypt’s actions in Libya are ‘illegal’ |NationalTribune.com

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for supporting forces based in eastern Libya, after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Libyan tribesmen who urged Cairo to intervene in the war. Turkey has been providing military aid to the United Nations-recognised government in the Libya conflict, while Egypt,…

Turkey’s Erdogan says Egypt’s actions in Libya are ‘illegal’ |NationalTribune.com

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for supporting forces based in eastern Libya, after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Libyan tribesmen who urged Cairo to intervene in the war.
Turkey has been providing military aid to the United Nations-recognised government in the Libya conflict, while Egypt, the UAE and Russia have backed its foes in a rival administration based in the east.
Recent weeks have seen dramatic military advances by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which drove back forces of the eastern renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar who had launched an assault on Tripoli last year.
Eastern-based legislators called this week for Egypt to intervene in the conflict. El-Sisi met Libyan tribesmen on Thursday and said Egypt would not stand idle in the face of a direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan security.
Asked about the possibility of Egyptian intervention, Erdogan said on Friday Turkey would maintain its support for the GNA.
“Steps taken by Egypt here, especially their siding with the putschist Haftar, show they are in an illegal process,” he said. He also described the approach of the UAE as “piratical”.
El-Sisi said last month Egypt’s army might enter Libya if the Tripoli government and its Turkish allies renewed an assault on the central Sirte-Jufrah front line, seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals, now held by Haftar’s allies.
Libya has been mired in conflict since 2011, when longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi was removed in a NATO-backed operation.

Arms embargo
Meanwhile, France’s foreign ministry on Friday rebuffed US assertions that an EU naval mission to enforce a UN weapons embargo for Libya was biased and not serious, saying Washington should itself be doing more to stop the flow of weapons to the North African country.
David Schenker, assistant secretary for Near East Affairs at the US State Department, said on Thursday Europe should go beyond limiting arms-supply interdictions to Turkey by designating Russian military contractor Wagner Group and calling out Moscow and other countries such as the UAE and Egypt over the issue.
In response to Schenker’s comments, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters: “We call on all our partners – starting with the United States – to step up their action, as the European Union is doing, to hinder recurrent violations of the arms embargo and to help relaunch a political process inclusive.”
Turkey has intervened decisively in recent weeks in Libya, providing air support, weapons and allied fighters from Syria to help the GNA repel a year-long assault by Haftar.
Turkey accuses France of supporting Haftar politically, having previously given him military assistance to fight armed groups.
France denies this, but relations between the two NATO allies have frayed with Paris repeatedly pointing the finger at Ankara over its role in Libya, while never publicly criticising Egypt or the UAE for their role.
“France is actively participating in this important operation in the context of increased foreign interference in the Libyan conflict, which we have condemned in the strongest terms,” Von der Muhll said.
The UN has previously cited the UAE, Egypt and Turkey for breaching the embargo.
Germany also stressed on Friday the need to uphold the Libyan arms embargo in the wake of el-Sisi’s latest statement.
Speaking at a regular news briefing in Berlin, Christofer Burger, a deputy spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, made clear that the Libyan arms embargo “applied to all sides”.
The German diplomat called for an “immediate end” to foreign military support for the conflict parties.
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