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Turkey and US in talks to end 'unacceptable' Syria Idlib crisis

Vice President Fuat Oktay says Turkey 'cannot overlook cruelty' in Syria
Turkey has warned it will push back against Syrian government if another Turkish soldier is killed (AFP)

Turkish leaders have been in talks to end the brewing crisis in northwestern Syria, where Turkish forces are facing a standoff with the Syrian government. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to his US counterpart Donald Trump "on ways to end the crisis in Idlib without further delay," according to his office. 

Turkey has insisted however that it has not betrayed its commitments set out in a 2018 deal with Russia and Iran to set up a de-escalation zone in Syria. 

Erdogan's office said he told Trump "the [Syrian] regime's most recent attacks are unacceptable."

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Earlier his deputy Fuat Oktay said Syrian forces had overrun some of the Turkish observation posts established under this deal. Thirteen Turkish soldiers have been killed since the Syrian offensive on Idlib. 

"We cannot overlook the cruelty happening in our neighbour," said Okat, adding that Turkey, which hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, cannot handle a new migrant wave from Idlib where hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

Around 800,000 Syrians have been displaced by the Syrian government's push on Idlib. 

Earlier in the week Erdogan threatened to strike Syrian government forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, says Turkey has flouted deals it made with Moscow and aggravated the situation in Idlib. The Kremlin said Ankara had failed to neutralise militants there.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russia's Sergei Lavrov both said differences between the countries will not affect their relations.

"We can not change the principle-based positions we hold or our politics over individual disagreements with one country or another. We must not allow the problems in Syria to undermine our co-operation and relations," the TASS news agency cited Cavusoglu as saying after meeting Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference

Oktay told broadcaster NTV that Turkey was determined to stop Syrian government advances in Idlib and Ankara had clearly conveyed its position on Idlib to Moscow during the talks.

In an apparent response to Russia's criticism on Thursday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey would use force against rebel groups violating a 12 January ceasefire in Idlib and said Ankara was sending reinforcements to control Idlib.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday during the Munich Security Conference, the Interfax news agency reported.

Recent events have prompted Turkey to flood more troops, vehicles and equipment into Idlib, and double down its support for rebels, who have lost 600 square km in a matter of weeks. Syrian government and Russian aircraft have rained bombs down on Idlib, with some 350 civilians killed so far.

On Tuesday, a Syrian government helicopter, a Russian-made Mi-17, was shot down by the rebels near the town of Neirab. Several sources on the ground interviewed by Middle East Eye said that the air defence system that hit that aircraft was provided by Turkey.

“Aircraft that target civilian residential areas won’t be able to move freely any longer. We will chase regime forces on the ground out of the borders we designated,” Erdogan said.

In an apparent rebuke to the Russians, the president also said Ankara would no longer wait for the results of endless meetings.

Russian state news agency Ria Novosti reported that Erdogan made a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin early on Wednesday before his fiery speech and discussed the Idlib crisis. “The importance of the full implementation of the existing Russian-Turkish agreements ... was noted," the Russian presidency said in a statement.