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Russia, Iran and Turkey agree priority in Syria is not regime change

Natalia Kolesnikova, AFP | Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a press conference in Moscow on December 20.

Russia, Iran and Turkey agree that the priority in Syria is fighting "terrorism" and not the removal of Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov told reporters after a tripartite summit on Tuesday in Moscow.

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Lavrov welcomed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the Russian capital for talks on the Syrian conflict as the evacuation of the last rebel-held enclave in Aleppo continued.

"Right now the evacuation is wrapping up," Lavrov said at a joint press conference. "We hope that this is a question of one or a maximum of two days."

The three countries agreed to guarantee that Syria peace talks would go forward and backed the expansion of a ceasefire in the war-torn country.

"Iran, Russia and Turkey are ready to assist in preparing the agreement in the making between the Syrian government and the opposition and to become its guarantor," Lavrov said, citing a joint statement.

"The ministers agree with the importance of widening the ceasefire [and] of free access for humanitarian aid and movement of civilians on Syrian territory," he added.

Russia and Iran are on one side of the Syrian conflict in backing the Assad regime, whereas Turkey supports some of the diverse rebel groups seeking to oust him.

But Turkey and Russia have recently started working more closely, striking a complex deal that has allowed rebel fighters and civilians to leave Aleppo.

The Syrian army broadcast messages into the last rebel-held enclave of the city on Tuesday, warning that it was poised to enter the area sometime during the day and urging insurgents to speed up their evacuation of the city.

The operation to evacuate has brought out 37,500 people since late last week and the goal is to complete the process by Wednesday, Cavusoglu said. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is overseeing the operation, puts the number of those evacuated so far somewhat lower, at 25,000 people.

The evacuation of Aleppo's rebel sector is seen as a pivotal moment in the nearly six-year-long war that has killed more than 310,000 people and triggered a major humanitarian and refugee crisis.

Thousands more were still waiting to be bused out, according to Red Cross spokeswoman Ingy Sedky. She said that 750 people had also been evacuated from Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite-majority villages in northwest Syria that have been besieged by rebel fighters.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)

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