In a joint statement Wednesday, the leaders of Iran, Russia and Turkey said Israel’s military strikes in Syria are destabilizing to the region.
The statement said the three “consider Israeli military attacks in Syria as destabilizing and violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country and intensifying the tension in the region,” according to Russian news agency TASS.
The three also rejected US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli, saying the March 2019 decision was “a grave violation of international law and threatens regional peace and security.”
Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. It has targeted government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah. Raids attributed to Israel earlier this week killed 15 Iranian-backed fighters in 24 hours.
Israel rarely confirms details of its operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah is a threat and that it will continue its strikes. The raids are coordinated with Russia to avoid a clash between its forces, and cooperation between Moscow and Jerusalem has widely been touted by its leaders as tight, despite Russia’s alliance with Iran, Israel’s enemy, and its occasional condemnations of Israeli raids.
In a video conference Wednesday on the situation in Syria, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who support different factions in the war there, agreed to coordinate their efforts to reduce tensions in the country, whose conflict has entered its tenth year.
The three “reiterated their determination to enhance the trilateral coordination,” said a joint statement issued at the end of the video conference between the leaders.
The declaration also “emphasized their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” of Syria.
The talks were the first since September in the so-called Astana format, talks between the three main foreign powers in the Syrian conflict.
Iran and Russia have been staunch supporters of President Bashar Assad, while Turkey has called for the ouster of his regime and backed opposition armed groups.
The conference comes at a time when Russia-Turkey relations are tense not just over Syria but also Libya, another theater of war where Moscow and Ankara support opposing fighters.
But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country chaired the online meeting, described the talks as “constructive.”
The three countries had “agreed to continue coordination… focusing on tension reduction, political process and humanitarian relief,” he tweeted.
Rouhani told the conference “the Islamic republic believes the only solution to the Syrian crisis is political and not a military solution.”
“We continue to support the inter-Syrian dialogue and underline our determination to fight the terrorism of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group), al-Qaeda and other related groups,” he said.
“I emphasize that the fight against terrorism will continue until it is completely eradicated in Syria and the region in general.”
Putin raised similar concerns.
He said the objective of the conference was to analyze the situation and agree on steps “to ensure the long-term normalization in Syria.”
“Above all, it is a question of continuing the fight against international terrorism,” he said.
“The most tense situation is still being observed in territories outside the control of the Syrian army, particularly in the de-escalation zone of Idlib and in northeastern Syria.”
“We need to actively help advance an inclusive inter-Syrian dialogue,” said the Russian leader.
Idlib is held by jihadist and rebel groups, some of them backed by Turkey, which has deployed forces in several military posts in the region as part of a 2018 deal with Russia.
Putin also denounced as “illegitimate” a new raft of US sanctions against Syria.
He stressed “the negative impact of the sanctions put in place against Syria, bypassing the UN Security Council.”
The Caesar Act, which took effect in mid-June, punishes under US law any company that works with Assad.
The measures have cast a cloud over efforts to rebuild the war-ravaged country.
“Despite the call from the UN Secretary-General for easing the pressure of sanctions under pandemic conditions, Washington like Brussels decided to prolong measures against Syria,” Putin told the conference.
“In addition, new sanctions presumably aimed at economically suffocating Syria have been adopted.”
Erdogan said Turkey’s “fundamental priorities are to safeguard Syria’s political unity and territorial integrity, restore peace on the ground and find a lasting political solution to the conflict.”
“We will continue to do what we can to restore peace and security to our neighbor Syria as soon as possible,” said the Turkish president.
As well as Idlib, Turkey also controls a stretch of territory along its border in neighboring Aleppo province following a series of military offensives since 2016.
The conflict in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.