From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walk in the garden of the Vahdettin Mansion in Istanbul, on October 27, 2018, during a summit called to attempt to find a lasting political solution to the civil war in Syria. Image Credit: AFP

Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened a summit in Istanbul on Saturday with the leaders of Russia, Germany and France aimed at finding a political solution to the seven-year Syrian war.

A key challenge is their divided opinions about Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran and whose government has retaken most of the territory that rebels seized during the war that has killed over 400,000 people.

Western countries condemn Assad for what they call indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Still, the leaders meeting in Istanbul hope a cease-fire in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib can provide some momentum for peace efforts. The truce last month prevented a Syrian government offensive on the last rebel stronghold, which many feared would have set off another refugee crisis.

Idlib has been relatively calm since then, although both sides have accused each other of violating the deal. Syrian government forces shelled rebel-held villages in Idlib on Friday, killing seven people in violation of the agreement reached by Russia and Turkey, opposition activists said.

"The eyes of the entire world have now turned toward this meeting. I believe we won't fail these expectations," Erdogan said as talks started with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Earlier, the four leaders walked in the gardens of the Vahdettin mansion, where the talks were held. The renovated Ottoman-era structure has sweeping views of Istanbul's Bosporus strait.

Since 2015, the European Union has been struggling to cope with an influx of refugees, many from Iraq and Syria, and European countries hope war-torn areas can stabilise so that people can return. Germany has pledged millions of euros to help restore basic services in areas not held by the Assad regime.
The goal is to "avoid a new humanitarian disaster," Macron tweeted after arriving in Turkey.