Trump, Merkel Share Concerns Over Syria as Russia Continues Largest Naval Build Up Since War Began

'Russia is called upon to act in a moderating manner on the Syrian government and prevent a further escalation,' Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 29, 2018.
\ SPUTNIK/ REUTERS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump shared concerns about developments in Syria, especially the humanitarian situation in the region around Idlib, their offices said on Monday after the leaders spoke by telephone.

"Both leaders called for international action to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib Province," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

"Russia is called upon to act in a moderating manner on the Syrian government and prevent a further escalation," Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.

Read more: Syria, Turkey, Russia and U.S. to Square Off in Idlib With Millions of Civilians in the Crosshairs | Russia Deploys Fleet Off Syria While Claiming U.S. Preparing for Possible Strike

Seibert said the two leaders also spoke about Ukraine, the Western Balkans and trade, he said, without elaborating. Sanders said they sought "renewed efforts to solve the conflict in eastern Ukraine."

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Moscow, says it aims to recapture the rebel-held enclave of Idlib in northern Syria, a refuge for civilians and rebels displaced from other areas of Syria, as well as jihadist forces.

The region has been hit by a wave of air strikes and shelling this month in a possible prelude to a full-scale government offensive.

Merkel also raised concerns about the situation in Idlib during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin just over a week ago.

Turkey's foreign minister said on Friday it would be disastrous to seek a military solution in the region. Turkey, which has backed some rebel groups there, is trying to avert an attack by forces loyal to Assad. 

Russian intervention

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that the Russian military was in talks with leaders of armed groups in Syria's rebel-held Idlibprovince to reach a peace settlement, Russian news agency RIA reported.

Shoigu said the aim of the Idlib talks was to reach peaceful resolution similar to the settlements in Syria's Eastern Ghouta and Deraa, RIA said. 

The Russian Navy has dispatched the biggest task force to the Mediterranean Sea since the start of Russia's intervention in the Syrian conflict in September 2015, Russian daily Izvestia reported.

* The task force includes 13 warships and two submarines

* Most of the ships carry 'Kalibr' cruise missiles

* Several more ships are reportedly on their way to join the task force

* Izvestia cites military experts as saying the fleet will be able to support the Syrian army's campaign in rebel-held Idlib Province

* Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2015 backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad