Middle East

Erdogan threatens to target Syrian forces “everywhere” if troops hurt

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to target Syrian forces “everywhere” and “by any means” if Turkish troops in Syria are harmed.

Erdogan issued the threat during a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party at the parliament in Ankara on Wednesday.

The Syrian army and allied forces have been gaining ground against Ankara-backed and other militants in the northwestern Idlib Province, just south of Turkey’s border, recently.

Under a deal reached with Russia and brokered by Iran in 2018 known as the Sochi agreement, a small number of Turkish forces were allowed to man observation posts on Syrian territory to monitor the enforcement of certain de-escalation zones. However, Syrian forces have been advancing to re-establish control over sovereign territory in Idlib because militants have been targeting civilian targets from there. Turkey, meanwhile, has been sending in extra troops and military hardware in a provocative move that defies the Syrian government.

“If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of Idlib’s borders or the lines of the Sochi agreement,” he said. “We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating, without allowing for any stalling.”

Turkey claims it has lost over a dozen of its military personnel in Syrian shelling in Idlib over the past few days.

Ankara has also made unverified claims that its retaliatory strikes have hit positions held by the Damascus government and killed dozens of Syrian soldiers.

Erdogan expressed Turkey’s resolve to push Syrian government forces away from Turkish observation posts in Idlib by the end of February.

He further claimed that the Syrian government is “continuously attacking civilians, committing massacres and shedding blood.” He alleged that the purported attacks were meant to push civilians toward the Turkish border in order to facilitate the easy takeover of the area.

The Turkish leader also said that aircraft involved in operations in Idlib would “no longer move freely.”

Separately on Wednesday, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan had discussed the de-escalation of the tensions in Syria over the phone and emphasized the full implementation of Moscow-Ankara agreements.

“The importance was noted of the full implementation of existing Russian-Turkish agreements, including the Sochi memorandum,” it said in a statement after the phone call.

The leaders, it added, reviewed “various aspects of the settlement of the Syrian crisis, first and foremost in the context of a flare-up in the Idlib de-escalation zone.”

The Syrian government has retook control of all but one area in Syria since militancy began in the country back in 2011, namely Idlib. Turkey backs anti-Damascus militants. Russia and Iran are Syrian government allies.

On Tuesday, Syrian army forces managed to wrest control of the M5 highway connecting the capital Damascus to the second largest city Aleppo.

-Erdogan threatened

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