Tehran Summit Expected to Seal Fate of Syria’s Last Rebel Bastion

A general view of the rebel-held Idlib city on June 8, 2017.A general view of the rebel-held Idlib city on June 8, 2017.

The presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey meet Friday in Tehran for a summit expected to shape the future of Idlib Province, home to Syria's last major rebel bastion.

Damascus and its main backer Moscow have vowed to root out the extremist groups and take full control of the key Province but the outcome of Friday's meeting could determine the scale and scope and the timing of an offensive, wire services reported.

In parallel to the Syrian government's military buildup, the recent weeks have seen intense diplomatic activity.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are the guarantors of the Astana process, a track of negotiations that has eclipsed the older Geneva process and de facto helps beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad re-assert his authority on the country.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday that the military situation in the rebel-held province would become clearer after the Tehran summit, Reuters reported citing TASS news agency.

“I think the situation from a military point of view will become clearer after, among other things, the leaders of the three guarantor states hold talks on Friday (September 7),” Sergei Ryabkov told a news conference. Seized from government forces in 2015, Idlib and adjacent areas form the last major chunk of Syrian territory still in rebel hands.

  Turkey’s Stance

Turkey has limited sway over the extremist groups that control an estimated 60% of Idlib but it backs rebel groups there and has 12 military "observation points" across the province. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that he hopes the Tehran summit with Iranian and Russian leaders will avert a Syrian government offensive on the rebel-held Idlib enclave and prevent a new influx of refugees to Turkey. “We will take the situation to a positive point at this summit...God willing, we will be able to hinder the Syrian government’s extremism in the region,” the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying overnight, Reuters reported.

Erdogan also spoke about the potential influx of refugees from Idlib to Turkey in the case of such an offensive, the Hurriyet said. “In a situation like this, where will the fleeing people go to? A large proportion of them will come to Turkey,” he was quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said Turkish and Russian officials had met in Ankara to hold five days of meetings on developments in Syria. It said joint efforts would continue.

Meanwhile, Fars News Agency reported on Wednesday that Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami, who recently was in Syria, had met with a senior Russian commander to discuss the Idlib issue while he was in the Arab nation. During the meeting, Hatami told the Russian commander, whose name was not revealed by the Iranian media, "the operations should continue in full coordination and the achievements gained in the military field should be well maintained in other scenes." The Russian Army's top field commander in Syria had presented a report of the latest developments in the war on the terrorists, Fars said.

  Concern Over Casualties

The United Nations and aid groups have warned that a full assault could spark one of the worst disasters of a conflict that has already killed 350,000 people and displaced 11 million in seven years.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the armed groups in Idlib attacking Syrian government positions and Russia's air base in nearby Hmeimim should be eliminated. At stake in Tehran is the scope of the offensive and Lavrov said Tuesday that efforts were being made to separate "regular armed oppositionists from terrorists". The main target of an offensive would be the militant fighters from Tahrir al-Sham, a militant alliance dominated by the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda.


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