DAMASCUS – After liberating Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian governmental army will focus on clearing the country’s eastern regions of terrorists, President Bashar Assad stated.
“Idlib is the key task now, from the military point of view. Obviously, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has hurled all effort into it following an order by the Americans, there is no doubt in it, since after liberating Idlib we will focus on liberating the eastern regions. I have repeatedly said that Idlib is the main outpost, and they have made every effort to prevent its liberation so that we could not move to the east”, Assad said in an interview with Rossiya 24 broadcaster.
“However, we maintain contact with people living in the eastern regions. They are displeased and anxious over the US occupation”, the Syrian president added.
Assad stated that the feud between Syria and Turkey is “illogical”, stressing that Damascus had not attacked Turkey and that both states have common interests.
“What hostile action – big or small – did the Syrian people commit against the Turkish people? There is no such thing. There are Syrian-Turkish marriages, there are families, there are vital common interests. This mutual cultural interaction is historically determined, it is illogical that we have some serious disagreement between our countries”, Assad told the TV channel.
Syria’s president continued by saying that he considered the Turkish people to be a brotherly nation for the Syrians.
“Of course, we’re speaking about the Turkish people as a brotherly nation. I’m asking the Turkish people, what’s your problem with Syria? What’s the problem that Turkish citizens should die for?” Assad asked.
Fighting in Idlib escalated last week after terrorists carried out an operation against Syrian troops, prompting retaliatory attacks after which the Turkish military announced that more than 30 of its service members had been killed by the Syrian forces. The Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Turkish soldiers who were for an “unknown reason” among the terrorists had become caught up in the attack.
In September 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan held talks in Sochi devoted specifically to the Idlib de-escalation zone. They agreed to create a demilitarized zone in the province, which meant that all heavy weapons operated by terrorist groups were to be pulled back, while members of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, previously known as the al-Nusra Front, were to leave the zone.
Russia has repeatedly insisted that Turkey failed to implement its commitments under the 2018 bilateral deal on Idlib, particularly failing to distinguish between members of the armed opposition who are ready for engaging in peace talks with the government and militants.