Turkey tells Russia that Syrian forces in rebel bastion must pull back

Turkish and Russian military vehicles return following a joint patrol in northeast Syria, as they are pictured from near the Turkish border town of Kiziltepe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Turkey told Russia on Tuesday that its military was now ready to make sure that Russian-backed Syrian forces pull out from the last rebel bastion in northwest Syria as the two sides met for talks in Moscow.

Syrian forces, supported by a Russian air campaign, are waging an offensive on parts of the province of Idlib near Turkey, prompting thousands of civilians to flee and Turkey to demand a ceasefire.

President Bashar al-Assad's ally Moscow has accused Turkey of flouting its agreements with it on the nine-year-old war and of failing to rein in militants in Idlib province it said were staging attacks on Syrian and Russian forces.

Russian and Turkish delegations met in Moscow on Tuesday for a second day of talks aimed at reconciling their differences over Idlib, which have raised questions over the durability of their cooperation in Syria and elsewhere.

Turkey told the delegation in Moscow that Syrian forces must withdraw to behind a line of Turkish observation posts in Idlib to halt a "humanitarian catastrophe", Omer Celik, spokesman for Erdogan's ruling AK Party, told reporters in Ankara.

"(The Turkish delegation) conveyed clearly that Turkey made the necessary military preparation to make sure the Syrian government withdraws to previous borders if they do not do retreat themselves," he said.


JOINT PATROLS RESUME

Russia said on Monday that Turkey had restarted its joint patrols with the Russian military in northeast Syria after a two-week hiatus.

Turkey and Russia have jointly patrolled Syrian territory near the Turkish border since October. But Turkish forces had not shown up since Feb. 3, the Interfax news agency cited a Russian defence ministry official as saying.

A Turkish security source said on Feb. 7 that Ankara's joint patrols with Moscow had been postponed because of weather conditions.

"The latest joint Russian-Turkish patrol took place...", Russia's Defence Ministry said in a statement without elaborating.


(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)