Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Jan. 28 it will retaliate “in the strongest way, without hesitation” if any of the Turkish military observation posts in Syria’s northwest are threatened. The ministry’s comments came as Syrian regime forces entered Idlib province’s Maarat al-Numan town on the same day.
“Despite the ceasefire declaration on January 12, 2020, the regime continues to kill innocent civilians by attacks from both land and air, forcing the civilians to leave their homes and migrate in winter conditions, causing a great human tragedy in Idlib,” said the ministry.
“Any attempt to endanger the security of our Observation and Control Points operating within the scope of the Astana and Sochi Accords will be responded to in the strongest manner without any hesitation based on the right of self-defense.”
In December, Syrian regime forces surrounded one of the Turkish posts in Idlib.
Turkey — a strong backer of some of the rebels fighting agains Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — has a dozen observation posts in Idlib province, as part of an agreement reached in 2018 with Russia, a main supporter of Assad.
The Turkish Defense Ministry’s comments came in the face of a renewed drive by Assad to recapture Idlib, which sparked a new exodus of tens of thousands of civilians towards Turkey’s border. The Syrian regime’s attacks come despite a Jan. 12 ceasefire deal between Turkey and Russia.
On Jan. 28, Syrian state broadcaster al-Ikhbariya said regime forces entered the town of Maarat al-Numan in Idlib and were combing its districts while advancing further into the town. The state news agency SANA said later the forces had “liberated most of the town’s districts.”
Maarat al-Numan, the second largest town in Idlib province, is located on the main highway linking the capital Damascus with Aleppo in northern Syria.
On an official visit to African country of Senegal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said civilians were fleeing toward the Turkish border.
“There is a movement toward our border. We have taken our measures,” he said, adding that Turkey was building homes inside Syria for people fleeing Idlib.
“We are following the process with sensitivity. I hope we will reach peace in Idlib.”