Turkey bolsters Idlib outposts as Syrian gov't forces make gains

Syria's offensive prompts Ankara to send 150 vehicles with commandos and ammunition to rebel-held province.

    The push came a day before Russian officials arrive in Turkey for talks over the Idlib situation [Anadolu Agency via Reuters]
    The push came a day before Russian officials arrive in Turkey for talks over the Idlib situation [Anadolu Agency via Reuters]

    Turkey has sent nearly 150 vehicles with commandos and ammunition to reinforce its 12 observation posts in Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held region, according to Turkish state news agency Anadolu.

    The entry of the Turkish convoy, at least the second in a week, on Friday followed an increase in fighting in northwestern Idlib province and a rare deadly clash between Turkish and Syrian government forces.

    The development also came a day before Russian officials arrive in Turkey for talks over the situation in Idlib. 

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    Turkey says nine of its outposts set up under a 2018 deal with Russia - all in the southeastern part of the region - have now been encircled by the Syrian army, according to Al Jazeera's Sinem Koseoglu.

    Koseoglu, reporting from Syria's Bab Al Hawa near the Turkish border, said Ankara is determined to keep the positions.

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    "Turkey said it will keep reinforcing those military posts. After the Syrian government managed to regain control over the territories down below the M4 and M5 highways as well as Saraqib [town], nine Turkish military posts are now in the areas that are under control of the Syrian government," she said.

    "For now, they are safe but just a couple of days ago at night a Turkish convoy was hit by the Syrian government. So the safety and security of the Turkish military posts are questionable."

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to drive back Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdrew by the end of the month.

    Talks in Turkey

    Speaking at a news conference in Ankara on Friday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated Turkey would do whatever is necessary to stop a humanitarian tragedy in Idlib.

    "A delegation from Russia will arrive in Turkey. We will hold talks. Our goal is to stop the [Syrian] regime's aggression and move the political process forward," Cavusoglu said, adding the Russians would arrive on Saturday.

    On Thursday, Russian-led Syrian forces recaptured the strategic town of Saraqib in the province after fierce clashes with opposition fighters, Syrian state media reported. 

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    The push caused the displacement of more than a half million people in just over two months, compounding a humanitarian disaster in the region packed with internally displaced people.

    The town sits at the intersection of two major highways, one linking Damascus to the north and another connecting the country's west and east.

    Syrian state news agency, SANA, and state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said Syrian army units entered the town before nightfall and were combing it for the remaining fighters and explosives.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a United Kingdom-based war monitor, said Turkish troops were establishing a new military post east of Idlib city.

    Turkey says the recent Syrian advance is in violation of the previous agreements.

    In 2017, Turkey, Russia and Iran held meetings in Nursultan (earlier known as Astana) city in Kazakhstan and announced that Idlib and neighbouring cities in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus and the southern cities of Deraa and Quneitra would be de-escalation zones.

    In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone, where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited, and Ankara established 12 observation posts there.

    The Syrian push has led to three Turkish posts falling in areas under Syrian government control, a Turkish security source told the Reuters news agency, adding that such posts are equipped with enough personnel and equipment to defend themselves.

    Can Turkey's campaign in Syria's Idlib bring peace?

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    Can Turkey's campaign in Syria's Idlib bring peace?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies