Driving out militants from Syria’s Idlib now top priority – Putin

Driving out militants from Syria’s Idlib now top priority – Putin
Driving the extremists out of Syria’s Idlib province should be the primary goal at the current stage of the Syrian peace process, Russian President Vladimir Putin said following a meeting with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts.

“Our common absolute priority lies in the total elimination of terrorists in Syria,” Putin said, adding that the Russian forces had recently helped to liberate the southwestern part of the war-torn country and that Idlib province has become the primary target now. “The presence [of militants] poses a direct threat to the … civilians in the whole region,” the president warned.

The Russian president went on to say that the three leaders discussed some “concrete steps” aimed at the gradual stabilization of the Idlib de-escalation zone that involve offers of peaceful reconciliation for those armed groups that are ready to engage in a dialogue. Putin expressed his hope that the militants “would have the wisdom” to lay down their arms and back down as he said that the three leaders called on all parties to the conflict to stop violence.

“We assume that [the sides] will be able to reach an agreement and our call for ceasefire in Idlib would be heard,” Putin said, adding that Russia, Turkey and Iran have always sought to bring the conflicting parties together. At the same time, the Russian president also said that Moscow, Tehran and Ankara would continue to actively fight terrorist groups in Syria, which are not considered to be part of any ceasefire agreements.

The president hailed the fact that some armed opposition groups, which are active in Idlib, have joined the fight against terrorists as well. He said that such developments are “of utmost importance,” adding that the joint fight against extremists would contribute to building trust between the Syrian government and opposition, thus facilitating smoother reconciliation between them.

Meanwhile, the continued activities of extremists in Idlib have become a source of particular concern, Putin said, adding that the radical groups apparently enjoy some outside support.

“Militants from various groups manage to build drones there and they somehow obtain the spare parts and everything they need to create such UAVs,” the Russian leader said. He also once again said that Moscow has “irrefutable” evidence suggesting that the terrorist groups entrenched in the militant-controlled province are seeking to stage false flag attacks, using chemical weapons. Such actions serve the interests of some foreign actors, he added.

It is “unacceptable” that some actors “want to let the terrorists off the hook under the guise of protection of civilians” and “inflict damage upon the troops loyal to the Syrian government,” Putin said, commenting on the issue of potential false flag attacks involving the use of chemical weapons.

Apart from combating terrorists, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran also agreed to enhance their efforts aimed at promoting intra-Syrian dialogue and improving the humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged country. Moscow, Tehran and Ankara “assign an important role to the coordinated efforts aimed at improving the humanitarian situation in Syria as well as at rebuilding its economy and resolving acute social problems,” the president said as the three leaders called on the international community and the UN in particular to render more assistance to Syria by delivering humanitarian aid and taking part in the reconstruction efforts.

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