Erdogan tells Syria to back off Turkish observation posts

Elias Hubbard
February 5, 2020

"The air and ground elements of the Turkish armed forces will freely move in the Idlib region and if needed will launch an operation", he added.

The post at Morek was surrounded by Assad's forces in December, while another at Surman now lies within the regime's area of control. In retaliation, Turkey struck over 50 targets and killed 76 Syrian regime troops.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday urged Syria to withdraw its troops from its military observation posts in northwestern Idlib province where clashes have intensified in recent days.

Speaking with reporters in NY, the United Nations chief expressed his apprehension about clashes Monday that saw eight Turkish military personnel killed in an offensive by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

Erdogan said two of Turkey's 12 observation posts, set up around a "de-escalation zone" in northwest Syria's Idlib region as part of a 2017 agreement with Russian Federation and Iran, were now behind Syrian government front lines.

Syria's military command said Tuesday that the presence of Turkish forces was "illegal and a flagrant act of aggression", vowing to respond to any Turkish attack on its forces, SANA reported. He said an additional 280,000 people could be displaced from urban centers near the two main highways in the region. He said Turkish troops will force Damascus to retreat if this is not done, deploying the army and warplanes if necessary.

Moscow, which backs the government of Bashar al-Assad, and Ankara, which supports some of the rebel groups opposed to it, are the two main foreign brokers in the almost decade-old Syrian conflict.

Turkey is building housing for displaced people near the Turkish border, where President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday almost 1 million people were heading.

With the latest displacements, the number of people displaced from Idlib and Aleppo since the beginning of previous year has mounted to almost 1.68 million. "No one has the right to place such a weight on our shoulders", he said.

The mass displacement of civilians in Idlib has coincided with a biting winter and is one of the largest since the 2011 start of a conflict that has seen more than half of Syria's pre-war population of 20 million displaced. It was proclaimed a de-escalation zone under the Russia-Turkey agreements. The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire - including a fresh cease-fire January 12 - launching frequent attacks inside the zone and killing at least 1,300 civilians since the agreement.

Turkey has complained of the carnage and continued attacks and urged Russian Federation to rein in its ally Assad to stop the bloodshed.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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