Turkey says it launched airstrikes against Syrian troops advancing in the last terrorist bastion in Idlib, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming the raids were in response to attacks on Turkish forces.
Erdogan said Monday Turkey’s F-16 warplanes were involved in the attack against 40 points in Idlib, claiming that 30-35 Syrians were “neutralized” in the aggression.
The alleged attack came after Turkey beefed up its presence in the region and warned of a military offensive if the ongoing operation by Syrian government forces against foreign-backed Takfiri militants continues.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said four Turkish soldiers were killed and nine others injured in intense shelling by Syrian government forces in Idlib earlier Monday.
Erdogan said, “We have responded in kind to these attacks and will continue to do so, whether it is with our artillery or mortars.”
“We are determined to continue our operations for the security of our country, people and our brothers in Idlib,” he told reporters in Istanbul.
The Turkish president said Ankara had urged Moscow which supports the Syrian army in the offensive “to stand aside” in the escalating conflict.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Turkish military came under fire from Syrian government forces because Moscow had not been warned about Turkey’s operations in Idlib.
Turkish air force planes, the ministry said, did not violate Syria’s border and no attacks on Syrian troops were recorded. Syria’s state news agency SANA, meanwhile, did not report any Turkish airstrike.
The Russian ministry’s dismissal of Erdogan’s claims prompted questions about what actually transpired on Monday.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in London, did not report a Turkish airstrike either and instead said at least six Syrian government troops had been killed by shelling.
On Saturday, Turkish-backed militants attacked positions held by the Syrian government forces northeast of Aleppo, said the observatory which is generally sympathetic to militants in Syria.
Recent major advances by the Syrian army in Idlib and assertions by state officials to continue the offensive until all dangerous terrorists are ousted from the province have seriously worried Turkey.
Damascus launched the offensive in Idlib, the last major terrorist-held territory in Syria, last August after militants stepped up attacking Syrian and Russian positions.
On Friday, Erdogan thundered from a podium in Ankara that his country would launch a military operation in Idlib if the ongoing counter-terrorism operation by Syrian government forces continued.
Idlib is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group that was once Syria’s version of al-Qaeda.
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia signed a ceasefire deal to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib. Turkey also set up a dozen observation points in the region to uphold the ceasefire.
Under the Sochi agreement, all militants in the demilitarized zone that surrounds Idlib, and also parts of the provinces of Aleppo and west-central province of Hama, were supposed to pull out heavy arms by October 2018 and Takfiri groups to withdraw.
However, Turkey has failed to fulfill any of its obligations as Takfiri terrorists have continued to rule supreme in the regions outside the control of the Syrian government.
The Syrian offensive came after those positioned in the de-escalation zone failed to honor the ceasefire and continued to target civilian neighborhoods.
Turkey, which supports so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) terrorists, launched two cross-border operations in northern Syria in August 2016 and January 2018, with the declared aim of eradicating Kurdish militants near its borders.
Again in October 2019, Turkish troops and its proxies launched a cross-border invasion of northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to push Kurdish militants from border areas.
Syria has strongly condemned the invasions and pledged to drive out Turkish troops from its territories by any means possible.
On Monday, a spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party said Turkey would view Syrian government forces around its observation posts in Idlib as “targets”.
“We expect Russia not to shield the regime or protect them because after the clear attack on our armed forces, regime forces around our posts are targets,” Omer Celik told CNN Turk.