President Erdogan says Turkey will push Syrian Government's forces beyond observation posts in Idlib 'by any means necessary'.
Turkey will strike Syrian government forces “anywhere” if one more Turkish soldier is hurt and could use airpower if need be, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.
Addressing the country’s parliament in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey is determined to push Syrian government forces beyond Turkish observation posts in the northwestern Idlib region by the end of February.
“We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground,” he said.
Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria as part of a 2018 deal with Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian government attacks have killed 13 Turkish military forces in Idlib this month, prompting a deadly response from Ankara amid concerns over an escalation of violence in the country’s nearly nine-year war.
On Tuesday, Erdogan said the Syrian government will pay a “very heavy price” for attacking Turkish troops in Idlib.
Ankara has said it retaliated for both attacks, destroying several Syrian targets.
With backing from Russia, Syrian troops have been on the offensive for weeks in Idlib province and parts of nearby Aleppo, triggering a humanitarian crisis with some 700,000 people fleeing their homes. Hundreds of civilians have also been killed, according to the United Nations.
Both Ankara and Moscow agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib into a so-called de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Syrian government and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire – including a fresh ceasefire that started on January 12 – launching frequent deadly attacks inside the zone.
Implement existing agreements
The Turkish military casualties have strained ties between Ankara and Moscow. On Wednesday, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Erdogan about defuse the situation in Idlib and said the sides should defer to existing Russian-Turkish agreements – which deal with the implementation of the de-escalation zones – should be implemented in full.
“The importance was noted of the full implementation of existing Russian-Turkish agreements,” the Kremlin said in a statement after the Putin-Erdogan phone call.
Reprting from the Syrian town of Bab Al Hawa, Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said the Syrian government does not recognise the de-escalation zone criteria.
“Experts told me that after the last meeting in Moscow between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria, everybody unwillingly accepted that and knew that the Syrian government would advance towards the M5 highway – which is vital for both the Syrian opposition and the government,” she said.
“But it wasn’t expected that the Syrian government would take over Saraqeb, and when they tried to move towards the town, that was when the Turkish military established some extra observation posts in order to protect its own military posts and civilians.”
The M5 links the capital Damascus to the second city of Aleppo through the major hubs of Homs and Hama, and has been a key target for the government as it seeks to restore territorial control and rekindle a moribund economy.
Koseoglu said the situation on the ground is “very tense” because both the Syrian government and Turkish side seem “not to be compromising” in their actions.
“Right now Turkey continues with its reinforcements while the Syrian government is enhancing its positions and clashes are underway,” she said.