Turkey steps up efforts to stop all-out assault on Syria’s Idlib

Turkey is intensifying diplomatic efforts with Russia to deescalate violence in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib, its foreign minister said Wednesday, as it seeks to stave off an all-out assault on the opposition’s last stronghold that could spark a humanitarian disaster.

Moscow and Ankara support opposing sides in Syria’s eight-year conflict but have worked together to move the warring parties toward a political resolution. Their efforts include agreeing to a demilitarized zone last year for Idlib, which is controlled by militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and where more than 3 million civilians are sheltering from the war.

With Europe and the United States largely watching from the sidelines, Turkey has taken on a vigorous role in the Syrian end game and has cultivated closer ties with the war-torn country’s two other major foreign players, Iran and Russia. It’s dented Turkey’s relations with its Western partners, especially over Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian missile defense system.

Turkey and Russia will convene a working group as soon as possible to try to restore relative calm to Idlib, even as Assad’s army undermines the “progress” Ankara and Moscow have achieved, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in comments broadcast live on TV. “We have intensified our efforts. The regime’s aggressive stance must end, and the attacks [in Idlib] must stop.”