Turkey yesterday gave Syria an ultimatum to pull its forces back from its military posts in the country’s last rebel enclave following unprecedented clashes between their forces this week.
The escalation between Turkish and Syrian troops -- which saw more than 20 people killed in exchanges on Monday -- is testing the uneasy relations between Turkey and Russia, the key foreign brokers of the conflict.
“If the regime does not pull back, Turkey will be obliged to take matters into its own hands,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party MPs in Ankara, giving Syria until the end of the month to comply.
But Syrian regime forces were continuing their offensive in northwestern Idlib province yesterday -- one which has killed 300 civilians since December and displaced some 520,000 people in one of the biggest upheavals of the nine-year war.
Syrian troops have seized more than 20 towns and villages from rebels and jihadists over the past 24 hours, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state news agency SANA.
Erdogan said two of Turkey’s 12 observation posts in Idlib, set up under a 2018 agreement with Russia, were now “behind the regime’s lines”.
The post at Morek was surrounded by Assad’s forces in December, while another at Surman now lies within the regime’s area of control.
Eight Turkish troops and civilians were killed on Monday by regime fire in Idlib and Turkey killed at least 13 Syrian government troops in response, according to monitors, in the bloodiest clashes since Ankara sent troops to Syria in 2016.
Erdogan called on Moscow, the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, to “better understand our sensitivities in Syria”.