TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - "We are carrying out work together with the Russians and the Iranians to prevent the catastrophe which took place in Aleppo from repeating in Idlib,” Erdogan told a Thursday ceremony in Ankara, referring to the Syrian army’s 2016 retaking of Aleppo from militants supported by a number of foreign countries, including Turkey.
The Turkish president made the remarks as the Syrian government is planning to launch a full-scale offensive against terrorists in Idlib, a province that shares borders with Turkey and is currently controlled by foreign-backed terrorists.
In his Thursday remarks, Erdogan also hailed his country’s success in destroying a “corridor” for Takfiri terrorists along its border with Syria, highlighting Turkey’s concern over the operation of the Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front) terrorists in Idlib.
Earlier, there were reports that Turkey was trying to stave off the Idlib offensive. A report by the Middle East Eye news portal in early August said Ankara was already working with other opposition groups in the province to eliminate the militants like Tahrir al-Sham - in an effort which was seen as part of a plan to fend off the anticipated assault by the Syrian army.
A militant commander was quoted as saying that the US was happy with Turkey’s plan, since it meant the Turkish-backed "opposition" would be in control of the city instead of Syrian government forces.
Turkey has been one of the biggest supporters of anti-government militants, particularly in such border areas as Idlib and Aleppo. However, its focus gradually evolved from backing those militants to securing its own borders and fighting against terrorists.
Meanwhile, Erdogan's remarks that Turkey is working with Iran and Russia over Idlib could be a major shift showing that Ankara is moving closer to Tehran and Moscow over Syria.
His comments come as the presidents of the three countries are expected to hold a trilateral meeting on Syria in Iran on September 7.
Idlib is one of the last major militant strongholds in Syria. Turkey has set up a series of observation posts in the province as part of a deal with Iran and Russia to reduce fighting between militants and the Syrian government troops in areas designated as "de-escalation zones".
Iran, Turkey and Russia are the guarantors of a cease-fire regime in Syria, which was agreed upon in the Astana Peace Process.
The three guarantor states initiated the Astana Process on January 23, 2017, establishing de-escalation zones in an effort to restore calm in the region and improve the humanitarian situation in war-torn Syria.
On the same front, there had been indications lately that Ankara had in several cases deployed its tanks and military vehicles as well as armed forces in Idlib in a bid to prevent a “safe haven” from being created for the terrorists in the province.
Last Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said fighting the terrorists on Turkey's southern borders was a top priority.
“It’s important to deactivate all the terrorist groups since they are posing a threat to Turkey on our border,” Cavusoglu said in a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
Meanwhile, Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria, said on Thursday that the UN estimates around 10,000 terrorists remain in northern Idlib province and need to be defeated.
The UN envoy, however, warned that the terrorists may use chemical weapons during the Syrian army’s upcoming operation in Idlib, endangering the lives of three million people living there.
To the same effect, Russia recently warned that Western powers led by the US were preparing to launch a new attack on Syria under the pretext of a "false flag" chemical attack.
This past Saturday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that the Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group was "close to committing a very serious provocation in Idlib using chemical weapons.” The Russian official said the US-backed terrorists are going to launch the false-flag operation to frame the Syrian government.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also warned on Thursday that the US against using the possible chemical weapons provocation to justify a new strike against Syrian forces, urging the West “not to play with fire in Syria.”
“A new provocation is being prepared by the West to hamper the anti-terrorist operation in Idlib,” Lavrov said during a joint press conference with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem.
“We have facts on the table and have issued a strong warning to our Western partners through our Defense Ministry and our Foreign Ministry not to play with fire,” he added.