Turkey's Erdogan pledges to push back Syrian regime forces in Idlib 'this week'

Turkey's Erdogan pledges to push back Syrian regime forces in Idlib 'this week'
Clashes between Ankara and Damascus have killed at least 17 Turkish troops in recent weeks.
2 min read
26 February, 2020
Nearly a million people have been displaced in Idlib since December [AFP]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Wednesday to force Syrian regime forces away from Ankara's military observation posts in conflict-torn Idlib province.

"We are planning to liberate our observation posts from the surrounding [Syrian regime forces] by the end of this month, one way or another," Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling party according to Reuters.

The comments marked the latest pledge by the Turkish leader to defend the country's observation posts in Idlib, a stance which has prompted deadly clashes between Turkish and Syrian regime troops in recent weeks and even threats of a direct military incursion by Ankara.

Turkey has sent thousands of reinforcements and truckloads of equipment into Idlib, the shrinking last bastion of rebel control in Syria.

Damascus with the aid of its key backer Moscow has intensified its assault on the northwestern province in the last three months, recapturing key towns and a strategic highway.

The aerial onslaught has killed hundreds of civilians and sent nearly a million, many of them women and children, fleeing northwards to the Turkish border.

The fierce offensive has continued this month despite threats by Erdogan and a renewed pushback by Turkish-backed rebel forces, allegedly equipped with weaponery and armoured vehicles newly supplied by Ankara.

Read more: Kafranbel: Iconic revolutionary town falls to the Assad regime

Opposition forces captured the town of Nairab in Idlib this week, the first to be retaken from the advancing regime forces.

Meanwhile, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made new gains on Wednesday, capturing a number of villages in the south of the province, according to a war monitor and a news outlet run by Assad's Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Damascus aims to seize the town of Kafar Aweed next, which would force rebel and extremist factions from large swathes of territory, said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkey set up 12 military observation posts in the region under a 2018 "de-escalation" agreement with Russia. 

Several of those posts are now behind Syrian regime lines and have come under attack, with at least 17 Turkish troops killed this month.

Ankara is also keen to halt the regime advance as record numbers of displaced people are pushed towards the Turkish border.

Turkey hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees whose continued presence amid domestic economic upheaval has become a key polling issue for Erdogan.

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