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Putin: Russia and Turkey agree on steps to tackle militants in Syria’s Idlib

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Moscow and Ankara had agreed steps to tackle militants in northwestern Syria and “normalize” there after Syrian government forces surrounded opposition fighters and a Turkish military position in the region.

Putin made the remarks after talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said Syrian attacks in the Idlib region on the border with his country were causing a humanitarian crisis and threatening Turkey’s national security.

“I have identified with the Turkish president additional joint steps to neutralize the terrorist hideouts in Idlib and restore the situation to normal there and in Syria as a result,” Putin told a joint news conference with Erdogan.

He did not address Erdogan’s call to stop the offensive by Syrian government forces launching an offensive with the support of the Russian Air Force in the Idlib region, the last remaining stronghold of the opposition in Syria. Many parts of the region are controlled by militants linked to what was known as Jabhat al-Nusra, which was linked to al Qaeda.

Standing alongside Putin, Erdogan said it was unacceptable that “Syrian forces are raining death on civilians from the air and the ground under the pretext of fighting terrorism.”

He added that Turkey had the right to self-defense on its borders. “I conveyed our country’s insistence on this issue personally to my good friend, Mr. Putin.”

Syrian forces have besieged opposition fighters and a Turkish military post in northwestern Syria in an offensive aimed at recovering land and towns lost by the government at the start of the war.

The military observation post near the town of Mork is one of 12 sites set up by Ankara in northwest Syria under an agreement with Moscow and Tehran two years ago to reduce fighting between government forces and the opposition.

– Close relations despite Syria –

A senior Turkish official said ahead of the talks that Turkey expected Syria, as a strong supporter of Assad, to take steps “to alleviate the problem”.

Erdogan and Putin have had frequent talks and strengthened ties by focusing on energy and defense cooperation. In July, Turkey began taking over Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, moving Ankara’s relations with the United States, its NATO partner.

As the two leaders met in Moscow, the second battery of the S-400 missile system began.

The advance of Syrian forces puts Turkish soldiers in the area in the crossfire and threatens Ankara’s hopes of preventing a new wave of refugees, including fighters, on its southern border.

The United Nations says more than 500,000 people have been displaced since Syrian government forces began their offensive in late April. Most of them, while fleeing, are pushing into opposition strongholds and towards the border. Turkey opened its borders at the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and currently hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

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