SHAFAQNA – Iran’s foreign minister said at the start of a visit to Damascus that “terrorists must be purged” from Syria’s Idlib and the entire northwestern province returned to government control. The visit comes days before the leaders of Iran, Turkey, and Russia are expected to meet in Iran to discuss the situation in Idlib on September 7.
Iran called for militants to be “cleaned out” of Syria’s Idlib province, as it prepared for talks with Syria and Russia about confronting the last major enclave held by rebels opposed to Bashar Assad.
“All of Syrian territory must be preserved and all the sects and groups should start the round of reconstruction as one collective and the displaced should return to their families,” Zarif said.
“We hope that the province of Idlib will be cleared of terrorism the same way as with previous operations of the Syrian military, with the lowest casualties, such as the suburbs of Damascus and the southern provinces,” Zarif added.
During their meeting Assad and Zarif discussed the agenda of the summit in Iran.
Assad’s office said in a statement: “The two sides asserted that the pressures from some Western states on Syria and Tehran will not deter the two countries from continuing to defend their principles.”
Talks about a Sept. 7 meeting between Iran, Turkey and Russia on Tehran
The visit comes days before the leaders of Iran, Turkey, and Russia are expected to meet in Iran to discuss the situation in Idlib.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Iran. The Kremlin says the meeting will take place in Tehran on Sept. 7, Arabnews reported.
Zarif spoke about Idlib at the start of his visit for talks about a Sept. 7 meeting between Iran, Turkey and Russia on confronting militants in Idlib, Iranian state media reported.
Turkey, which has long supported anti-Assad rebels, has cooperated with Russia and Iran on talks over Syria in recent years and has troops in the Idlib region on an observation mission.
Signing a defense and technical agreement
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Iran would continue its support for Syrian government forces in its battle in Idlib.
“One of the complicated issues today is Idlib which is the last stronghold of anti-government insurgents. The government of Syria is determined to put an end to this catastrophe, Qassemi said, trt world reported.
According to daily sabah, Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami was in Damascus last week and signed a “defense and technical agreement” designed to ensure the continued “presence and participation” of Iran in Syria.
Idlib is home to some 3 million Syrians
About 6.2 million Syrians have been displaced since the conflict began in 2011, with a further 6.3 million having fled abroad as refugees, according to a recent UNHCR report.
Idlib is home to some 3 million Syrians, according to United Nations estimates, and 70,000 fighters from multiple factions, including former al Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The heavy concentration of residents and fighters, analysts say, makes the province a powder keg.
Half of Idlib’s population are displaced people, bused to the northwestern province from former rebel areas across the country. The area is densely populated, with many civilians flocking to camps near Syria’s border with Turkey as they brace for an imminent attack, Edition reported.
According to Aljazeera, the main rebel group in the area is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate. HTS currently controls about 60 percent of the province.