Erdogan says Turkey may launch fresh Syria offensive if Idlib attacks continue

Erdogan says Turkey may launch fresh Syria offensive if Idlib attacks continue
Turkey has launched three prior offensives in Syria against the Islamic State group and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
3 min read
31 January, 2020
Erdogan decried the 'threat' of a new influx of refugees [AFP]
Turkey could launch its fourth military offensive in Syria if attacks on civilians in the northwestern Idlib province continue, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Friday.

The brutal campaign by the Syrian regime and its Russian backer to retake the country's last opposition-held bastion began in earnest last spring but has accelerated in recent weeks, with dozens of towns seized and thousands displaced.

Regime forces on Tuesday entered the key town of Maarat al-Numan, one of the first towns in Idlib to rise up against President Bashar al-Assad. Fierce Russian aerial bombardment allowed regime troops to walk into the destroyed town, which had been in rebel hands since 2012, unchallenged.

The bloody campaign has raised tensions between Moscow and Ankara, which back opposing sides in the conflict but have cultivated a close working relationship in recent years.

In recent days, Turkey has challenged Russia over the offensive, which began last year despite a 2018 de-escalation deal brokered by Ankara and Moscow.

Under the deal, the Turkish military holds 12 observation posts in the besieged area which it has said it will not vacate.

Ankara also fears a fresh wave of refugees at its borders. Turkey hosts around 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

The campaign to recapture Idlib - which has a population of around 3 million, at least half of whom were displaced from elsewhere in Syria - has already displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. With Turkey's borders closed over the past few years, they have nowhere to run.

Speaking in Ankara on Friday, Erdogan said his country could not risk a fresh influx of refugees, nor would it allow threats near its borders.

Read more: The story of Idlib's 'ceasefires' is the story of Syria's war

"We will do what is necessary when someone is threatening our soil," the Turkish president said according to Reuters.

"We will have no choice but to resort to the same path again if the situation in Idlib is not returned to normal quickly," he added, hinting at what would be Turkey's fourth military operation in Syria in around three years. 

Turkish forces and Ankara-backed Syrian rebels have fought three previous offensives in northern Syria against the Islamic State group and Kurdish-led forces, mostly recently against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the country's northeast.

"We will not refrain from doing what is necessary, including using military force," Erdogan explained.

"We will not allow the regime to put our country under the constant threat of migrants by tormenting, attacking, spilling the blood of... its people."

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