Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that his country would ensure Syrian Regime forces are forced away from Turkish military observation posts in the Idlib de-escalation zone by the end of February.
His comments come following attacks on Turkish soldiers that killed 14 over the past two weeks.
The state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) quoted Erdogan as saying that Turkey is determined to push back Syrian regime forces from Turkey’s observation posts in Idlib by the end of February.
The observation posts were established in 2018 under the Astana peace process. To push back the Syrian forces, Turkey “will do what is necessary via land and air without hesitation,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
Speaking at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party’s parliamentary group, Erdogan said Syrian regime forces would be a target anywhere in Syria, not just in the Idlib region if the Turkish troops were attacked again.
“If any harm comes to our soldiers in observation posts [in Idlib] or anywhere [in Syria], I declare from there that we will hit regime forces everywhere regardless of the Sochi deal,” he said.
Erdogan also accused Russian forces of “massacring civilians” in Idlib.
Vladimir Tarabrin, a Russian Foreign Ministry official, said his country does not target civilians.
“We have repeatedly and decisively stated that neither Russia nor the Syrian armed forces conduct attacks on civilians. All the attacks are targeted exclusively against the terror bands, the people who carry weapons and engage in the fight against the legal government”, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for New Challenges and Threats Director, Vladimir Tarabrin was quoted by the Sputnik news agency as saying.
“‘Nobody is safe where a Turkish soldier has been martyred, Turkey will use its full force,” Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as saying.
According to sources from the Turkish military, over the past week, more than 1200 military vehicles and nearly 10,000 troops crossed the border to reinforce Turkish positions in the Idlib province.
Turkey has urged Russia to restrain the regime onslaught in the Idlib region.
Syrian regime forces are within 10 km of the provincial capital Idlib city, home to more than 1 million people, causing nearly 800,000 to flee toward the Turkish border.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said the troops were in the region with an aim “to prevent clashes, to ensure our border security and to stop migration and human tragedy.”
However, Russia, Syria, and Iran accuse Turkey of supporting jihadist groups in the region and not fulfilling its task defined in the Astana-Sochi accords to clear the province of the extremists.
With its observation posts, Turkey backs the opposition fighters trying to stop an offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Russia-backed forces, which are slowly advancing slowly to retake the rebel-held Idlib region – the last major region in the hands of rebels, who attempted to overthrow his regime in 2011.