By Elena Teslova
Turkey, Russia, and Iran should consider steps to tackle the “terrorist hotbed” in Syria, said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, meeting with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts.
"We need to agree how to ensure a permanent de-escalation in Idlib,” Putin told the opening of a trilateral summit in Sochi, Russia
“The cease-fire regime is in force in the province, but that doesn’t mean that we should accept the presence of terrorists in the area. Thus, I propose we consider concrete practical steps that Russia, Turkey, and Iran could take to completely and finally destroy the terrorist hotbed."
After a meeting in Sochi last September between Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two sides agreed to set up a demilitarized zone -- in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited -- in Idlib.
The following month saw all heavy weapons withdrawn from the de-escalation zone by Syrian opposition and anti-regime groups.
But according to the Syrian White Helmets civil defense group, at least 30 people in Idlib were killed in January, including women and children, while another 180 were injured -- in Idlib, Hama and Latakia -- by regime drone attacks and artillery fire.
At Thursday’s summit, Putin said in addition to Idlib, the situation near the Euphrates and the issues of Syria's reconstruction and refugees’ repatriation are the most important right now.
He also urged that a planned committee to draw up a new Syrian constitution start its work as soon as possible.
Putin told how last month in Moscow he and Erdogan discussed the consequences of U.S. troops leaving Syria.
"We agreed that the problems in [Syria’s] northeast should be solved with strict respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity of," he said.
Putin said Russian, Turkish and Iranian efforts sharply changed the humanitarian situation in Syria, as over the last six months, more than 130,000 Syrian refugees returned home and humanitarian aid is being delivered.
"But about a million people still need help. We hope that the international community and the UN will play a more active role in this matter," he said.
- Iran's Rouhani
For his part, Rouhani said that the issues of external intervention in Syria as well as the importance of liberating Syria from terror were top issues for the summit.
Stressing the need to preserve the country’s territorial integrity, he added that Washington "unfortunately" provided protection for terror groups within Syrian borders.
In addition, Rouhani underlined that it was critical that Syrian refugees are able to return to their home soil.
Erdogan, Putin, and Rouhani first gathered in Sochi to discuss the crisis in Syria in 2017.
Turkey, Russia and Iran are guarantor countries which brokered a cease-fire in Syria in December 2016, leading to the Astana talks, which are running parallel to the Geneva talks.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on protesters with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.
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