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Allies discuss Syria escalation amid Turkish-Russian tension

China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-14 09:28
Syrians flee violence in the town of Atme in Syria's northwestern Idlib Province, near the Turkish border, on Wednesday. RAMI AL SAYED/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ANKARA-US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey on Wednesday met with Turkish officials in Ankara amid tensions between Turkey and Russia over an escalation in the conflict in Syria's Idlib Province.

Jeffrey met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal and Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin to discuss the latest developments on the situation in Syria, according to a tweet by the US embassy in Turkey.

"Today in Idlib, Turkey, our ally, faces a threat. This threat comes from the government of Russia and Assad," Jeffrey told reporters when arriving in Turkey late on Tuesday, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US official also said he came to Turkey to reevaluate the situation with the Turkish government, adding that the United States will give as much support as possible to Turkey.

Russia on Wednesday accused Turkey of flouting agreements it had made with Moscow on Syria and of aggravating the situation in Idlib, where Syrian forces have made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last insurgent bastion in a nine-year civil war.

That violence in Idlib, in northwest Syria bordering Turkey, forced thousands of civilians to flee and has drawn in the Turkish military.

In one of the strongest signs yet that Syria is placing relations between Moscow, which backs the Syrian government, and Ankara, which backs Syrian rebels, under increasing strain, the Kremlin, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Defence Ministry all accused Turkey of bad faith.

The Kremlin said Turkey had failed to deliver on a promise to "neutralize" militants in Idlib, something it called unacceptable. The Russian Foreign Ministry reminded Ankara its forces were in Syria without the blessing of the Syrian government, and the Russian Defense Ministry said Turkish troops were seriously aggravating the situation on the ground in Idlib.

Moscow rejects claim

The Russian Defence Ministry also flatly rejected an allegation by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Russian forces and Iran-backed militias were "constantly attacking the civilian people, carrying out massacres, spilling blood".

"Statements by Turkish representatives about alleged attacks by Russian forces on civilians in the Idlib de-escalation zone do not correspond with reality," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

"The real reason for the crisis in the Idlib de-escalation zone, unfortunately, is the nonfulfillment by our Turkish colleagues of their undertakings to separate moderate opposition militants from terrorists."

It said the presence of Turkish troops and armor in Idlib was making the situation there much worse, as was the transport of weapons and ammunition across the Syrian-Turkish border.

Meanwhile, a Syrian was killed and another was wounded when government supporters attacked US troops and tried to block their way as their convoy drove through an army checkpoint in northeastern Syria, prompting a rare clash, state media and activists reported.

The US military said its forces came under fire, and that troops responded in self-defense. It said an investigation of the incident was underway.

Syrian state media said the man killed was a civilian and that he was among residents of a village east of the town of Qamishli who had gathered at the checkpoint and pelted the US convoy with stones.

A video posted on state news agency SANA's website showed angry men firing small arms at the convoy of several armored US vehicles flying the US flag. Some residents pelted the convoy with stones, while one dumped a bucket full of dirt on the back of one vehicle.

In one of the worst incidents of violence against US troops deployed in northeastern Syria, flames were seen on an armored vehicle, apparently the result of fire bombs lobbed at the convoy. US soldiers were seen standing in the middle of the melee, trying to disperse the crowd.

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