Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday a military observation point in northwest Syria will not be moved after the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked a convoy heading towards it killing three civilians and injuring 12 others.
The attacked Turkish convoy was reportedly on a mission to keep supply routes open and to ensure the safety of the observation post which could become cut off by the latest Syrian army operation.
“Right now, we do not have an intention such as moving this elsewhere. It will carry on with its mission. The regime should not be playing with fire. We will do whatever is necessary for the security of our soldiers and observation posts,” Cavusoglu told reporters during a press conference with his Salvadoran counterpart Alexandra Hill in Ankara.
The minister said Turkey was “at every level” in contact with Russia to implement a ceasefire in the Idlib region of northwest Syria.
“We will continue fighting terrorism, despite the continuing support provided to terrorists by several Western and regional sides, mainly Turkey, as recent battles in Idlib proved Ankara’s clear and unlimited support for terrorists,’’ the Syrian president was quoted as saying on Tuesday by state-run SANA agency.
The Russian side also commented on the recent incidents, informing Turkey of its plans to crush the HTS militants in Idlib.
“We have warned that we would respond, and this practice cannot stop, because the agreement on Idlib does not provide for the extension of the ceasefire regime to terrorists,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Sputnik News.
In the last 24 hours, the Syrian rebels had withdrawn from several positions, with those who stayed behind in the area gathering at the Turkish military position in the town of Morek, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor.
Syrian forces had previously targeted Turkish army outposts in the region. Turkey currently maintains 12 observation points around the rebel-held province.
Last September, Russia and Turkey signed the Sochi agreements on the Idlib de-escalation zone stating that the cease-fire in the Idlib region would be preserved with the withdrawal of heavy arms and radicals from the region.
In the context of the deal, the two countries set up observation posts in Idlib with Turkey assuming the responsibility of removing jihadists and rebels including the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), from the zone.
The HTS, however, has gained dominance in Idlib and carried out attacks on the Syrian forces and its ally Russia.
Al-Assad’s regime therefore has abandoned the existing ceasefire and resumed military operations in Idlib, accusing Turkey of backing the rebels.
Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave for the anti-government rebels after eight years of civil war in Syria, is home to some 3 million residents.
At least 450,000 people have been driven from their homes, while around 500 civilians have been killed due to the violence since April when the fighting broke out in the area, according to the Observatory.
Moscow and Tehran support the al-Assad regime, while Ankara has been backing some rebel fighters.
Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, fears the clashes will cause a further refugee influx.