The conquest of Idlib will allow Syrian leader Bashar Assad to regain full control of the country and the Teheran summit meeting between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is where the future of Syria is now being discussed.
A US envoy says Washington has "lots of evidence" that Syrian government forces are preparing to use chemical weapons against rebel-held Idlib province.
Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib in keeping with the provisions of the Astana process.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.
While Russia has condemned Idlib as a "nest of terrorists" that needs to be cleansed and brought back under central government control, Turkey has been calling for "terrorists" - a reference mainly to the Al Qaeda-linked Harakat Tahrir ash-Shams (HTS) - to be separated from civilians, in order to avoid an all-out onslaught. "The signal for the beginning of the practical phase of the terrorists" provocation in the province of Idlib will be a special team from some "foreign friends of the Syrian revolution", Sputnik quoted Konashenkov as saying.
While Iran advocated a strong-arm approach, Turkey objected to such an idea as it feared that a large-scale military operation could provoke a mass exodus of refugees to the neighboring Turkish regions. "An attack on Idlib will result in disaster, massacre, tragedy", he warned.
Erdogan also sought to use Persian literature to drive home his point in Tehran, quoting the poet Saadi: "If you've no sympathy for human pain, the name of a human you can not retain". Yesterday, the leaders of Russia Syria and Turkey failed to come up with a plan to end the fighting immediately. But above all, the summit highlighted the stark differences among these allies of convenience, with Putin and Rouhani opposing Erdogan's call for a cease-fire. "The least the summit can do is to prevent this military war", he said. Mr Putin said: "The fact is that there are no representatives of the armed opposition here around this table". The US military revealed nearly no details of its plan as the statement said only that it would involve "using the US capabilities to spot the terrorists - even in an urban environment - and take them out with a minimum of civilian casualties". Iran's President Hassan Rouhani could be seen smiling beatifically as Erdogan responded, "We would be making a call on Jabhat al-Nusra, on HTS to lay down their arms".
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Turkey, Iran and Russian Federation on Friday called for a political solution to the crisis in Syria in a joint statement issued at the end of a trilateral summit in the Iranian capital Tehran.
But Russia's Vladimir Putin said on Friday a ceasefire would be pointless as it would not involve Islamist militant groups it deems terrorists.
In the last couple of weeks, Ankara has been reinforcing its military presence in Idlib, reportedly including deployment of anti-aircraft missiles.
Afrin is the mainly Kurdish enclave Turkish troops invaded with Russia's blessings and rebel boots in March. "We need to find a rational solution in Idlib that will address everyone's concerns".
Russian and Iranian support has been key to the regime's successes.
Like Turkey, the United States is formally opposed to a regime assault on Idlib and Kurdish participation in it. The Syrian government has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons in the long conflict. The US will chair a UN Security Council meeting on Friday about the possible offensive. This suggests Turkey is increasingly isolated as it weighs its next move in Syria.
"I think the last chapter of the Idlib story has not been written". The Russian diplomat added that "the meeting had nothing to do with practical activities aimed at resolving the Syria issue".