UPDATE – Turkey wants to maintain cease-fire in Idlib

UPDATES WITH AKAR'S COMMENT ON GREECE RETURNING TURKISH SOLDIERS

By Zuhal Demirci and Sarp Ozer

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Monday the country's most important aim in Idlib, Syria is to stop land and air attacks and establish a cease-fire and stability.

Answering questions from reporters in the capital, Ankara, during Afghanistan's National Day reception, Akar said Turkey "wants the absolute cease-fire to be maintained" which was planned within the scope of the Astana peace process brokered by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

"If the cease-fire is not maintained, then civilians, children and elderly people would suffer the most in case of an attack," Akar said.

"Our most important aim is to maintain cease-fire and stability in the region," he said.

At least 17 people were wounded Monday by airstrikes carried out by the Assad regime and Russian warplanes on Idlib and Hama provinces in northern Syria.

Since the beginning of the month, at least 29 civilians have been killed and dozens injured in airstrikes and attacks by regime forces and Russian warplanes in Idlib and Hama, according to the White Helmets, a local civil defense agency.

The Syrian regime has recently announced plans to launch a major military offensive in Idlib, which has long been controlled by various armed opposition groups.

The UN warned last week that such an offensive would lead to the "worst humanitarian catastrophe in the 21st century".

Located near the Turkish border, Idlib is home to more than 3 million Syrians, many of whom fled from other cities following attacks by regime forces.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a cease-fire in Idlib during a tripartite summit in Tehran with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

– Akar's comments on returned Turkish soldiers

Asked to comment on Greece returning two Turkish soldiers Sunday after they crossed to the Greek side of the border by mistake, Akar said "positive and constructive attitude by the two countries gave out a good example of the neighbor relations."

"There is an effort going on to prevent illegal crossing between two countries. During those efforts, an incident happened. After our phone conversations with Greece Defense Minister Mr. [Panos] Kammenos, our two soldiers were returned to us," Akar said, thanking those who contributed.

Greece allowed two Turkish soldiers to return after they were held, when they crossed to the Greek side of the border, the Chief of General Staff said in a statement.

The statement said the soldiers were chasing irregular migrants when they crossed the border by mistake.

The soldiers were held by Greek patrol units at 11 a.m. (GMT0800), the statement said.

It added the soldiers were returned to Turkey at around 6.30 p.m. (GMT1530) after the Turkish side held talks with Greek authorities.

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