Istanbul: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey will not allow Syrian forces to gain ground in the last opposition stronghold of Idlib, in comments published Tuesday, a day after eight Turks died in regime fire.
“Syria is right now trying to buy time by driving those innocent and grieving people in Idlib toward our borders. We will not allow Syria the opportunity to gain ground there,” Erdogan said in quotes published by the Hurriyet newspaper and broadcaster NTV.
Syrian shelling killed eight Turkish soldiers and civilians in Idlib on Monday, prompting Ankara to retaliate against dozens of Syrian army positions.
“This is a clear violation of the Idlib agreement. There will of course be consequences for the regime,” Erdogan said in the interview, which was given to Turkish journalists on his plane returning from a visit to Ukraine.
Erdogan had earlier criticised Russia, the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, for failing to enforce peace agreements in Idlib, but he toned down his rhetoric in the latest statement.
“We don’t need to get into a serious conflict or a serious confrontation with Russia at this stage,” he said. “As you know we have very serious initiatives with Russia.”
Turkey and Russia have enjoyed burgeoning trade and defence ties in recent years despite being on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict.
Under a 2018 deal with Russia, Turkey set up 12 observation posts in Idlib aimed at preventing a full assault by Syrian forces, although one was surrounded by Assad’s troops in December.
“Our military observation posts are playing a vital role there and they will remain in place,” Erdogan vowed.