Turkey has threatened Syria, saying it would do “what is necessary” to reinforce its military observation posts in Syria’s Idlib province.
The warning to Syria that it should not stop reinforcements came from Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, which was speaking to the daily Hurriyet newspaper.
“Turkey will keep its observation points in Idlib within the framework of the [Sochi] agreement, and in this context; it will continue reinforcements,” the minister stated. “Our authorized colleagues there are coordinating their supply by negotiating with their Russian counterparts. Despite this, if there is blocking, we express it very clearly, we will do whatever is necessary,” Akar said.
A senior Turkish official told Reuters, Turkey’s military observation outposts had been fully reinforced, and they were ready for any event.
“The Idlib front has been strengthened. Of course, all options are on the table,” the unnamed official said.
“Our brave army will continue to carry out its sacred duties to clear the entire geographic territory of Syria from terrorism and its supporters,” the Syrian armed forces said in a statement in response to the Turkish remarks.
Russia-backed Syrian forces have recently recaptured dozens of towns and villages. They have retaken control over more than 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) of territory in total, according to the statement.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a war monitor, said only a two-kilometer section of the crucial M5 highway remains outside control of al-Assad forces in Saraqeb.
It is a town located on two essential highways – the M5 connecting the Syrian capital Damascus to Aleppo and the M4 running west-to-east across Idlib.
The observatory also confirmed the Turkish remarks on reinforcements, reporting that 1,240 Turkish military vehicles, as well as 5,000 soldiers, crossed into Idlib in the past week.
Turkish troop movements in the region have notably increased since Sunday last week when eight Turkish military personnel were killed in Syrian shelling in Saraqeb.
Turkey responded in kind to the attack, reportedly killing dozens of Syrian soldiers on Monday, marking a rare direct confrontation on the ground that prompted a war of words between the two sides.
“The regime, with Russia’s support, has been violating all agreements and accords,” the senior Turkish official claimed, adding that the talks between Turkish and Russian delegations in Ankara on Saturday were positive.
The two sides would meet again next week, the official said.
Turkey backs the rebels and holds twelve military outposts in the Idlib region based on previous Astana and Sochi agreements concluded with Russia and Iran.
The trio – Russia, Iran, and Syria – accuse Turkey of not fulfilling its task, under the deals, of removing the rebels with their heavy arms from the agreed territory.
Ankara refuses to leave the observation posts, one of which has been reportedly surrounded by the Syrian forces since December.
“Turkish observation posts will stay in the area as per the agreements signed with Russia, and reinforcements will continue to take place,” Akar added.
Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would “take matters into its own hands” if the al-Assad regime did not withdraw beyond the observation points until the end of February.
“Do not force us. Otherwise, our plans B and C are ready,” Akar warned.
According to Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman and founder of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), at least 850,000 people were displaced in Idlib in 2019.
Pope Francis had also expressed his concern for Syrians in Idlib.
“Painful reports are still emerging from northwestern Syria, particularly regarding the plight of so many women and children, as well as of people forced to flee because of a military escalation,” the Pope said at the Angelus prayer.