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Putin and Rouhani clash with Erdogan over Syria at Tehran summit

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani backed the Syrian government’s imminent military offensive in Idlib province yesterday.

They took issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when the three leaders met at a summit in Tehran.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey could not take any more refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, voicing fears that a full-scale offensive in Idlib province could send many more across the border.

“Idlib isn’t just important for Syria’s future, it is of importance for our national security and for the future of the region. Any attack on Idlib would result in a catastrophe. Any fight against terrorists requires methods based on time and patience.

“We don't want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath,” he stressed.

However, Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani insisted that it was essential to smash the opposition forces dominated by jihadists linked to al-Qaida and the Isis death cult.

“The fires of war and bloodshed in Syria are reaching their end” and terrorism must be “uprooted in Syria, particularly in Idlib,” said the Iranian president.

His Russian counterpart demanded the “total annihilation of terrorists in Syria,” declaring: “We think it’s unacceptable when someone is trying to shield the terrorists under the pretext of protecting civilians as well as causing damage to Syrian government troops.

“As far as we can see, this is also the goal of the attempts to stage chemical weapons incidents by Syrian authorities. We have irrefutable evidence that militants are preparing such operations, such provocations.”

There are about three million people – including thousands of the most intransigent jihadist fighters – in Idlib province and surrounding areas, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria.

President Bashar al-Assad’s allies in Moscow and Tehran have backed his insistence that the government must take control of all parts of the country, rejecting any idea of dual power or rebels continuing to hold some areas.

Both Damascus and Moscow have implored refugees driven out by the war to return and want Western countries to invest in Syria's postwar reconstruction.

However, the US and its allies remain preoccupied with dragging out the conflict for as long as possible to weaken the Assad regime economically.

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