Russia, Iran, Turkey Hold Syria Talks

Russia, Iran, Turkey Hold Syria Talks

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- The leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Ankara on Wednesday for talks on resolving the conflict in Syria.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were holding their second summit to discuss Syria's future since attending a similar meeting in Sochi, Russia, in November.

The leaders meeting in the Turkish capital are expected to reaffirm their commitment to Syria's territorial integrity and the continuation of local cease-fires. Talks were also expected to include the issues of border security, the distribution of humanitarian aid and drawing up a constitution for the country.

Russia and Iran have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad's forces, while Turkey has backed the rebels seeking to overthrow him. The three nations have sponsored several rounds of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, and brokered local truces in four areas, helping to reduce hostilities.

The leaders locked hands while posing for photos at the start of the meeting, but did not make opening remarks. Earlier, Rouhani held separate bilateral meetings with Putin and Erdogan.

Meanwhile, the Russian military said Wednesday that it expects a rebel evacuation from the suburbs of the Syrian capital to be completed in the coming days.

The Russian Defense Ministry and Syrian rebels struck a deal on Sunday for the Army of Islam, the biggest opposition group in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, to leave the area for the rebel-controlled north.

The rebels were still leaving the town of Douma, but the evacuation was expected to wrap up in the coming days, said Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff.

Earlier, Russia's Defense Ministry said that more than 3,000 rebels and their family members had evacuated Douma since Sunday.

The evacuation comes after a blistering five-week government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds of people and caused catastrophic damage in the besieged suburbs.