Turkey's FM urges Russia to halt Syrian government attacks

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Foreign and defense ministers of Russia and Turkey met as part of an effort by Moscow and Ankara to sponsor Monday's talks between rival parties in Libya in the Russian capital. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's foreign minister urged Russia on Wednesday to halt the Syrian government's attacks in the war-torn Arab country, a day after airstrikes on rebel-held sectors and the shelling of government-held areas killed at least 17 people, including an entire family.

In his remarks, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted it was Moscow's responsibility to stop the violence as Russia has been a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the civil war.

The Syrian government has been carrying out an offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, and the rebel-held parts of nearby Aleppo province. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom fled to areas closer to the border with Turkey.

Dozens of fighters have been killed on both sides in recent days as clashes intensified. The fighting comes despite a new cessation of hostilities agreement between Russia and Turkey that went into effect earlier this month. Moscow and Ankara stand on opposing sides of the conflict in Syria.

"Russia is the guarantor of the (Syrian) regime," Cavusoglu told a panel at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. "Russia is obliged to stop this aggression."

“The situation in Idlib is our main focus because the regime has been increasing its aggression," he added. “Already, 400,000 people have been displaced and moved toward our border.”

The province of Idlib is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants but is also home to 3 million civilians. The United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border.