Syrian airstrikes near Turkish post leave nine dead

At least nine people were killed in strikes by Russian-backed Syrian forces struck several areas, including one near a Turkish military post, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The strikes are part of the stepped-up attacks on Syria’s last rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

The strikes hit Maarat al-Numan, a sanctuary for families who had previously fled from Khan Sheikhoun, a former rebel area located in further south.

Nearby villages and towns were also affected by the airstrikes, but not the Turkish observation point, located in the town of Sheir Magher.

It was not immediately clear whether the Turkish outpost was a target, according to a senior Turkish security source cited by the news agency.

In the past two weeks, tens of thousands of people have fled towards the Turkish border as the Russia-backed troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad advanced into Idlib province.

Late on Wednesday, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan had a telephone conversation with his US counterpart Donald Trump, discussing the latest incidents in Syria.

The two leaders reportedly decided to maintain efforts to protect Idlib civilians, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu (AA) reported.

The latest airstrikes came after Erdogan paid a one-day visit to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.

The two leaders had agreed on steps to normalize the situation in northwest Syria, referring to the latest clashes near Idlib.

Earlier this month, the two had held talks in Moscow after Syrian forces encircled another Turkish military outpost in the town of Morek.

A Russian special force had been deployed around the Morek post to prevent any possible clash, in case of a Syrian army attack against Turkish troops there, Reuters reported citing a senior opposition official in touch with the Turkish military.

“The Russian presence around Morek is to defuse tensions between the Syrian regime and the Turks,” the unnamed official said.

Turkey currently maintains 12 observation points around the rebel-held province. Syrian forces had previously targeted Turkish army outposts in Idlib and northern Hama, accusing Turkey of backing the rebels, with Turkey then retaliating against the Syrian attacks.

The Turkish observation posts were set up following a deal that was reached with Moscow and Tehran two years ago.

A de-escalation zone and a ceasefire have also been initiated in the area following another deal struck last year.

Earlier this month, the Syrian forces attacked a Turkish convoy, which was reportedly on a mission to ensure the safety of an observation post, killing three civilians and injuring 12 others.

At the time, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the observation point near the attack would not be moved anywhere else.

In response, Cavusoglu’s Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov informed Ankara of Moscow’s plans to crush Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants in Idlib.

Since April, the al-Assad regime has been waging an offensive against Turkey-backed rebel fighters in that part of the country, much of which is controlled by jihadist fighters, notably the HTS.

The HTS, designated as a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council, is the most powerful armed rebel group in the region, and the latest incarnation of the group formerly known as the Nusra Front which was the official wing of al-Qaeda in the Syrian conflict until they apparently parted ways in 2016.

Turkey vows to maintain military post attacked by Syria

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