ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday he would hold a summit with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany on March 5 to discuss the escalation of violence in the last Syrian rebel enclave of Idlib.
The announcement comes a day after two heavyweights from the European Union, France and Germany, convened a four-party summit that involved the Turkish and Russian leaders.
“We will meet on March 5 and discuss these issues,” Erdogan said in a televised speech to supporters of his party in the western province of Izmir, after a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a conference call with the president. Frenchman Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.
Read more: Turkey tells Russia: Syrian regime attacks against Idlib must stop
Erdogan did not say where the summit would be held, but speaking with journalists after Friday’s prayers, he confirmed that Macron and Merkel proposed a Syrian summit in Istanbul and that Putin had not yet responded.
A month-long offensive by Russian-backed Syrian troops against Turkey-backed rebels in northwestern Idlib has seen nearly one million civilians fleeing violence.
Macron and Merkel on Friday “expressed their willingness to meet with President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan to find a political solution to the crisis,” said the German chancellor’s office.
Russia on Wednesday opposed the UN Security Council adopting a statement that would have called for a ceasefire in Idlib, diplomats said, after a tense meeting behind closed doors.
Turkey has threatened an “imminent” operation in Idlib after its troops have been subject to heavy shooting by regime forces and given Damascus until later this month to return from their military positions.
– A dead Turkish troop-
A Turkish soldier died Saturday in a regime fire in Idlib, the defense ministry said earlier.
The Turkish army retaliated and destroyed 21 regime targets after the “despicable attack,” he added.
The latest casualty raises the number of Turkish personnel killed in clashes this month to 17.
Before the attack, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu to discuss ways to find a solution to violence in Idlib, the ministry said.
Ankara has 12 observation posts there as part of a 2018 agreement with Russia and reinforced its military positions with howitzers, tanks and commands in recent weeks.
The wave of diplomatic activity comes after the violence in Idlib has caused an exchange of threats between Ankara and Moscow.
Key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, Russia accused Ankara of not acting against “terrorist groups in Idlib,” which Turkey denies.
Idlib is in the hands of a series of rebel groups dominated by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), led by members of the country’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.
Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s main press advisor, said on Saturday that Russia’s support for the Assad regime “worsens the already terrible humanitarian situation,” in a series of messages on Twitter.
Ankara has warned of a catastrophe and fears an influx of refugees from Idlib, as it already houses 3.6 million Syrians.
“Nothing can be the justification for expelling millions of innocent Syrians from their homes,” he said.
“We have fought very decisively against the terrorist groups in the region. Russia must not allow the regime to turn terrorist groups into an excuse for ethnic cleansing. “
Erdogan urged Putin in a phone call on Friday to curb the regime’s offensive and said the solution was to return to the 2018 Sochi agreement aimed at preventing a regime assault.