An image on September 7, 2018, shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (center) during a press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran after their trilateral meeting as Iran hosted a summit on the Syrian conflict. Photo: AFP / Iranian President's Office
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Instead of a Recep Tayyip Erdogan-proposed ceasefire for Idlib, the Turkish president, Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Iranian Hassan Rouhani jointly agreed on "a spirit of cooperation" for the Syrian opposition's last stronghold.
They "took up the situation in Idlib's de-escalation area and decided to address it in line with... the spirit of cooperation that characterized the Astana format," a 12-point tripartite statement said, AFP has reported on Friday.
Turkey, one of the three guarantors of the Astana-established, de-escalation zones, favored a ceasefire at their third presidential-level summit.
"If we can ensure a ceasefire here, this will be one of the most important steps of the summit, it will seriously put civilians at ease," Erdogan said from Tehran.
Turkey has backed groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They have now been pushed into the northwestern governorate of Idlib.
"We never want Idlib to turn into a bloodbath," Erdogan said.
Idlib has a population of about 2.9 people, according to the United Nations, including 1.4 million IDPs.
"Any attack launched or to be launched on Idlib will result in a disaster, massacre and a very big humanitarian tragedy," stressed Erdogan.
Russia and Iran have backed Assad — the former more so in the north and the latter in the south and east.
"We hope that representatives of terrorist organizations will have wisdom to end resistance and lay down arms," Putin, said according to state-run TASS news agency.
He acknowledged there are civilians in Idlib, but warned this won't prevent action against "terrorists."
"We cannot but worry about all this, of course, as well as because of the fact that terrorists use civilians as shields like they always do," added Putin.
An estimated 10,000 Al Qaeda-linked fighters are estimated to be in the governorate.
The next meeting between the presidents will be at the invitation of Putin, according to the joint statement, as reported by Iran's state-run IRNA news agency.
Rouhani blamed the United States for interfering in Syria and Libya, preventing the United Nations and the guarantors of bringing peace to the region.
He said that fighting in Idlib "is inevitable," noting Tehran is in Syria at Damascus's request and will support the nation's desire.
The UN Security Council is receiving briefings from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and John Ging, OCHA’s Director of Operations on Friday.
Mistura argued that people should be granted safe passage if they choose to leave the crisis Idlib.
"We must allow the opening of sufficient number of protected voluntary evacuation routes for civilians in any direction: east, north and south," he said, claiming the UN would establish a presence there.
An estimated 400,000 people have died since the conflict began in 2011. At least half of all Syrians have been displaced at one time or another through the bloodshed.
"Any battle for Idlib could be, would be, a horrific and bloody battle," said De Mistura, speaking by video-conference from Geneva.
The UN estimates there are 1 million children in Idlib.
“There are more babies in Idlib than there are terrorists” said UK Representative to the UN at the UNSC meeting.
Updated at 6:15 p.m.