ANKARA (Reuters) – The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran meet on Monday to try to secure a lasting truce in northwest Syria following attacks by the government that risk deepening regional turmoil and pushing a new wave of migrants toward Turkey.
The summit in Ankara, bringing together countries whose Syrian allies are combatants in a ruinous eight-year-old war, will focus on the Idlib region, the last remaining territory held by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani have backed Assad against the rebels. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, along with the United States, European and Arab allies, has supported different rebel factions in the conflict.
Assad’s forces, aided by Russian air power, have regained control of most lands lost in the war. In recent months, Assad’s forces have attacked Idlib, where Syrian and foreign radical fighters hold sway alongside other more moderate factions.
Under a deal with Moscow and Tehran two years ago, Turkey set up 12 military observation posts in northwest Syria aimed at reducing fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels. The Turkish military posts have recently been caught in the crossfire due to the Syrian offensive in the region.
In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Erdogan warned that any Syrian government attack on the posts would draw retaliation from Turkish forces, possibly risking a direct confrontation between Ankara and Damascus.
“The moment that the regime messes with our observation posts, if there is any attack, then things will take a very different direction,” Erdogan told Reuters. “We will not hold back like we are now. We will take any necessary steps.”
Erdogan and Putin agreed at talks in Moscow in August to “normalize” the situation in the region, after Syrian troops encircled rebels and a Turkish post in a move Ankara said threatened its national security.
While Putin and Erdogan have forged close ties over a range of issues like energy and defense cooperation, recent attacks by Syrian troops have also strained ties between Ankara and Moscow.