Turkey threatens force against 'radicals' in Syria's Idlib

Turkey threatens force against 'radicals' in Syria's Idlib
Turkey's defence minister said the country would use force against 'radicals' in Syria's Idlib province.
3 min read
13 February, 2020
Turkish vehicles carrying commandos pass through Turkey's Hatay province to support the border units [Anadolu/Getty]

Turkey on Thursday threatened to use force against "radicals" in Syria's Idlib province after Russia accused Ankara of failing to "neutralise" rebel groups under a 2018 deal. 

"Force will be used in Idlib against those who do not abide by the ceasefire, including the radicals," Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency. 

"Any form of measure will be taken," he said. 

Idlib - the last opposition bastion in Syria - is held by an array of rebels including the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group, led by members of the country's former Al-Qaeda franchise.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have pressed ahead with an offensive in the region since December, killing more than 380 civilians, according to the monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

The killing of 14 Turks in Idlib in government shelling has fuelled tensions between Ankara and Damascus, while raising stakes with Russia - a key ally of Assad. 

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Russia of committing "massacres" in Idlib and threatened to strike government forces anywhere in Syria if the slightest harm is done to Turkish troops. 

In return, Moscow accused Ankara of failing to honour the 2018 deal, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Turkish side "had taken upon itself an obligation to neutralise terrorist groups" in Idlib.

Under the bilateral agreement, radical groups were required to withdraw from a demilitarised zone in the Idlib region.

Turkey has also set up 12 observation posts in Idlib - of which three were encircled by Assad's forces, according to Turkish officials. 

Erdogan has now given Damascus until the end of the month to push back its forces outside the military locations. 

Turkey has sent reinforcements including troops and artillery to beef up its observation posts in recent days following the series of exchanges with the Syrian army.

Akar said: "We are sending additional units to establish a ceasefire and make it long-lasting. We will control the field."

A surge in internal displacement has seen around 700,000 Syrians flee the biggest regime offensive in Idlib since the nine-year-old conflict, the UN said on Tuesday.

Read More: As Syria regime inches closer, Idlib city prepares for mass exodus of civilians

"In just 10 weeks, since 1 December, some 690,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Idlib and surrounding areas," a spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

The UN expressed concern for civilians as Idlib is hit by freezing temperatures amid shortages of tents, food, and clean water.

Snowfall in some regions and sub-zero temperatures are raising fears of a major humanitarian catastrophe and prompting the United Nations to make an urgent appeal for shelter solutions. 

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