Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24 weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media in Istanbul, Turkey, on Feb. 21, 2020.

MURAT CETINMUHURDAR/PPO/Reuters

Turkey’s president urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call Friday to “restrain” the Syrian government and halt the humanitarian crisis unfolding in northwestern Syria as Damascus wages a military offensive against the last rebel stronghold in the country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also called for the full implementation of a 2018 Turkish-Russian ceasefire agreement for Idlib province, which collapsed following the Russia-backed Syrian government advance, a statement from Mr. Erdogan’s office said.

The two leaders expressed their commitment to “all agreements,” Mr. Erdogan’s office said, but did not elaborate.

Story continues below advertisement

Putin expressed “serious concern with continuing aggressive actions by extremist groups (in Idlib),” the Kremlin said in a statement. “The necessity of unconditional respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria was underlined.”

The discussion between the two leaders came amid mounting tensions as the Syrian government pushes ahead with an offensive that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. The offensive has tested ties between Turkey and Russia, who had been working together closely in Idlib, despite backing opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year civil war.

Mr. Erdogan this week warned of an “imminent” operation against Syria to compel it to pull its forces back behind Turkish positions by the end of February. He said earlier Friday that the phone call with Mr. Putin would determine Turkey’s position on Idlib.

Two Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib on Thursday after an attack by Ankara-backed opposition forces that targeted Syrian government troops. The deaths came after Mr. Erdogan threatened to expand his nation’s involvement in Syria if another one of his troops were hurt.

Earlier, Mr. Erdogan also held a joint call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which he said that “the Syrian regime and its backers’ aggression in Idlib must be stopped.” He also emphasized the need for “strong support and concrete action” to halt the unfolding humanitarian crisis, his office said.

It followed a similar call by Ms. Merkel and Macron to Putin on Thursday, during which they proposed urgent talks with Mr. Erdogan to ease tensions. Mr. Erdogan told reporters the European leaders had proposed a four-way meeting in Istanbul on March 5, but that Mr. Putin had not responded to the offer.

As Mr. Erdogan pressed ahead with diplomatic efforts on Idlib, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, accompanied by military commanders, travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border to inspect Turkish troops. He spoke with troops deployed in Idlib telling them he believed they would “succeed” in their duties in Syria.

Story continues below advertisement

Also on Friday, Russian warplanes struck rebel-held areas in the region as insurgents and government forces exchanged artillery and mortar fire in other parts of Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the country, opposition activists said.

A Russian-backed government offensive against Idlib and parts of Aleppo province has led to the displacement of more than 900,000 people, half of them children, since Dec. 1, according to the UN.

On Friday, Oleg Zhuravlyov, the head of the Russian military’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria, denied that “hundreds of thousands of peaceful residents of the (Idlib) province” were being forced to the border with Turkey.

“There are no verifiable photo or video materials or other evidence that would confirm the statements about around one million refugees from the Idlib de-escalation zone moving toward the Syrian-Turkish border,” he said.

The Center urged Turkey to “take all necessary measures to ensure voluntary and safe passage of residents of Idlib’s eastern and southern parts to areas controlled by the Syrian government.”

Russian officials have said they hold Turkey responsible for the collapse of the ceasefire deal in Idlib, saying Ankara had not reined in militants who continued attacking Syrian and Russian targets.

Story continues below advertisement

Tension in the region has been escalating in recent weeks as Turkey sent thousands of soldiers into Syria in a show of force.

At least 15 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria in February amid the offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces aimed at recapturing remaining opposition-held areas in the region.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Russian air strikes near the rebel strongholds of Atareb, Ariha and Qmenas. It added that on the southern edge of Idlib, Turkish troops and rebels exchanged shelling with Syrian government forces.

Akram al-Ahmad, a Turkey-based Syrian opposition activist who heads a monitoring group called the Syrian Press Center, said Russian bombardment struck the rebel-held towns of Sarmin and Atareb.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies