Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened on Feb. 5 to drive back Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdraw by the end of the month to stem an assault which he said had displaced nearly 1 million people.
Shelling by Syrian government forces killed eight Turkish military personnel on Feb. 3, prompting Turkish forces to strike back. The escalation raised concerns over future collaboration between Ankara and Moscow, which have backed opposing sides in the war despite joint efforts to ease the violence.
Erdoğan said two of Turkey’s 12 observation posts, set up around a “de-escalation zone” in northwest Syria’s Idlib region as part of a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, were now behind Syrian government front lines.
“We hope that the process of the regime pulling back behind our observation posts is completed in the month of February,” he told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“If the regime does not pull back during this time, Turkey will have to do this job itself.”
He said the Turkish military would carry out air and ground operations in Idlib, when necessary.
Erdoğan has said Moscow, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Ankara, which has backed rebels who tried to topple him, should resolve the conflict “without anger” and agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to improve coordination of their countries’ actions in Syria.
The violence in Idlib has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
U.N. regional spokesman David Swanson said 520,000 people had been displaced since the beginning of December and the numbers could swell further.
Erdoğan said nearly one million people were moving towards the Turkish border and Syrian territory under Turkish control.
“No one has the right to place such a weight on our shoulders,” he said.
Erdoğan on Feb. 4 told Putin that the Syrian forces’ attack on Turkish troops has marred joint efforts for peace in the country.
He also said that Turkey would continue to use its right of self defense against similar attacks, according to a statement by the Turkish Communications Directorate.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on Feb. 5 dispatched commandos to the observation posts in Idlib.
The commandos were sent to the border province of Hatay from various parts of Turkey, before crossing to Idlib.
The convoy consisting of 60 armored personnel carriers headed to Idlib under tight security measures.