THE TURKISH military has announced the death of at least one of its soldiers and the injury of nine others in an attack in the north western Syrian province of Idlib.
Turkey’s Defence Ministry said the casualties took place on Tuesday, adding that the latest death would bring the total number of Turkish soldiers killed in the conflict in the embattled region to 57.
The ministry also said 82 Syrian army targets had been struck after the attack on Turkish forces and that the area continued to be under fire.
The Turkish Defence Ministry said earlier in the day that the country’s military had shot down a Syrian fighter jet over Idlib, where Ankara supports militant groups fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey says it has shot down a Syrian fighter jet over the embattled northwestern province of Idlib, where Ankara supports militant groups fighting against the Damascus government.
Syria’s SANA news agency confirmed that a Syrian government plane had been ‘targeted’ in the embattled region. Turkey shot down two more Syrian aircraft last Sunday.
Idlib is home to several anti-government militant outfits receiving Turkish support.
The Syrian government troops and their allied forces have since December last year been waging an offensive to liberate towns and villages from the militants in the province.
Turkey has been manning a number of observation posts in Idlib since 2018, when it struck an agreement with Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to cooperate to contain the situation in Syrian territory in the vicinity of the Turkish border. Since the Syrian army offensive began in Idlib late last year, the Turkish military has been building up its presence there.
Ankara has threatened to attack Syrian forces if they do not retreat from Syrian territory where Turkish observation posts are located.
- The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 34 Turkish soldiers have been killed in air strikes in the north western Syrian province of Idlib.
The Sochi agreement required Ankara to oust Takfiri terrorists from the north western Syrian province. But, more than a year into the Sochi deal, terrorists rule in Idlib in close proximity to the Turkish troops.
Turkey has deployed massive troops and military equipment in recent weeks to stop Syrian troops from advancing to oust the terrorists.
Syria has condemned Turkey’s cross-border offensive into the Arab country, which was carried out to allegedly clear anti-Ankara Kurdish militants from a sliver of land bordering the Anatolian country.
- Russia says the allegations by Turkey, the United States, and some European countries that a humanitarian crisis has been caused in north western Syria as a result of Syrian and Russian military operations to retake territory from dangerous armed militants there are incorrect.
Rear Admiral Oleg Goravlov, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s Centre for Syrian Reconciliation, was quoted as making the remark by Russia’s RT Arabic service on Tuesday.
‘The statements made by representatives of Turkey, European countries, and the United States against Russia and Syria that there are millions of refugees and a humanitarian crisis caused by the exacerbation of the situation in the Idlib area is incorrect,’ Goravlov said.
He stressed that the number of refugees who cross the border to Turkey would not exceed 35,000 people, and that those refugees did not number at ‘millions’, as claimed by regimes hostile to Damascus.
Pointing to data collected by the centre for Syrian Reconciliation, Goravlov said the population of the areas under the control of terrorist groups in Idlib did not exceed 1.8 million people as of January 1, 2020.
The Russian official also referred to Turkey’s two previous acts of aggression in northern Syria and said the number of the people displaced as a result of the Turkish Operation Olive Branch in 2018 was about 250,000 – most of them being Kurdish civilians – and that the number from Operation Peace Spring, another Turkish incursion, was 135,000.
Over the past few weeks, Turkey has been making provocative military moves in Idlib, the only region in Syria with the largest concentration of militants. Syria launched a counter-terrorism offensive in Idlib last December after its troops and military advisers from Russia came under increasing militant attacks.
Turkey, a patron of the militants, last Sunday declared an offensive against the Syrian government after 34 Turkish troops deployed alongside militants were killed in Syrian artillery fire.
Under a deal reached with Russia in September 2018, Turkish troops were deployed to man observation posts in Idlib.
The agreement required Turkey to oust Takfiri terrorists from the northwestern Syrian province. But, that has yet to happen more than a year since the deal was reached.
The tensions in Idlib have seen thousands of Syrians fleeing to the Turkish border with Greece. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attempted to exploit the crisis to pressure European governments to back his offensive on Syria by announcing last week that his government would no longer stop the refugees from trying to enter Europe, something he had committed to doing under a 2016 deal with the EU.
Ankara has no plans to stop the flow of migrants into the European Union, Erdogan says.
Greece has, in response, deployed its armed forces to prevent some 13,000 migrants from crossing its border with Turkey over the past days, with various reports of clashes and firing of tear gas to restrain the movement of migrants.
Erdogan’s warning was also met with a wave of harsh criticisms from European governments, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying that it was ‘unacceptable’ for Turkey to pressure the EU ‘on the backs of refugees’.
In a related development on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Ankara ‘an official migrant trafficker’, and said Turkey was using the refugee crisis on its borders to ‘divert attention’ from the Syrian conflict.
‘This is no longer a refugee problem. This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and to divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria,’ Mitsotakis told journalists at a press conference after touring the Greek-Turkish border earlier in the day.
‘Europe will not be blackmailed by Turkey over the refugee issue. We stand ready to support Turkey in dealing with its refugee problem and find a solution to the Syria conundrum but not under these circumstances. My duty is to protect the sovereignty of my country,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the Defence Ministry as saying on Tuesday that Turkey was trying to push 130,000 refugees from Syria into Greece.
The agency added that two-thirds of the refugees that Ankara was pushing from temporary camps in Syria into Greece were Afghans, Iraqis and Africans, not Syrians.
The scenes of refugees heading toward Turkey’s border with Greece have sparked fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis, when over one million refugees arrived in the EU, most of them fleeing conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the war against terrorism is not restricted to Syria or Libya and the endeavour will determine the fate of the region.
Assad made the comments during a meeting with a delegation from Libya’s eastern Tobruk-based government on Monday.
The fight against terror by both Syrian and Libyan governments, he added, goes on in the face of impending foreign intervention.
The Libyan delegation was co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Abdul-Rahman al-Ahiresh as well as Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Abdul-Hadi al-Hawaij.
Both sides agreed that what was going on in Syria and Libya, in terms of militancy, was the same.
Assad said the war of terror will determine the fate of the region in the face of schemes put into gear by some regional states that are trying to impose their will on other countries using their own tools.
Referring to intervention of the Turkish government in Syria’s affairs and its onslaught against the northern parts of the Arab country, Assad emphasised that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime’s policies are based on using terrorism to achieve its political interests and this is a major factor fomenting instability across the region.
Both sides also discussed ways through which the two countries could activate bilateral cooperation in all sectors, on top of which would be opening diplomatic missions.
Furthermore, they stressed those bilateral ties, which bind the two brotherly peoples in a way that serve the mutual interests of the two countries, should be reactivated.
Last Sunday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and his Libyan counterpart, Abdul-Hadi al-Hawaij, signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the reopening of diplomatic missions in Syria and Libya, ‘particularly in standing in the face of Turkish interference and aggression’.
Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a NATO intervention led to the ousting of long-time President Muammar Gadaffi.