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Erdogan says Assad hurting Russian-Turkish relations  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Syrian regime of sabotaging Ankara’s relationship with Russia through its latest offensive in Idlib province.

Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces “sought to sabotage Turkish-Russian cooperation,” according to Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency.

Erdogan added that: “The [Syrian] regime’s ceasefire violations targeting the Idlib de-escalation zone over the last two weeks have reached an alarming dimension”. The readout of the conversation made no mention of the fact that Russian forces are involved in the Syrian government’s offensive.

Violent clashes in Idlib province killed at least 42 fighters over the weekend, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday, and the regime bombardment on the region has devastated health services. Erdogan told Putin that the latest regime offensive was impossible to justify as a counter-terror effort given the number of casualties and damage to health services.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoygu on Tuesday to discuss “measures to de-escalate tensions” in Idlib, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the group launched a counter-attack late Monday, bombing areas in the north of the province and sparking fierce clashes on the ground.

President Assad reportedly told Mehmet Yuva, a Syrian academic of Turkish origin based at the University of Damascus, that he is willing to meet his Turkish counterpart. In his article for the nationalist Turkish daily Aydınlık, Yuva said that meetings between Syrian and Turkish military and intelligence officers have already taken place, but Erdogan’s government has been unable to agree how to approach Syria.

Russia and Turkey are on opposing sides of the conflict, with Moscow strongly supporting Assad, and Turkey calling for Assad to go and supporting Syrian rebels financially and militarily since the civil war began in 2011.