Ankara to respond to any attack on posts in Syria: Defense Ministry

Ankara to respond to any attack on posts in Syria: Defense Ministry

Ankara to respond to any attack on posts in Syria: Defense Ministry

Amid heightened tensions between Ankara and Damascus, Turkey’s Defense Ministry has vowed to respond to any attack against Turkish observation posts in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region.

During a briefing at the ministry, military sources told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey will respond to any attack against its observation posts in the most “intense way as possible.”

“Our priority is to halt the attacks and ensure the cease-fire. Our troops are taking necessary precautions to cease the clashes in the region and to provide cease-fire,” the sources said, adding that there are no current problems with Turkish troops in the area.

“Our troops are ready to respond to any attack within the context of self-defense,” the sources added. They said that every observation post of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has the ability and capacity to protect itself.

When asked about how many of the Turkish observation posts are currently in territories controlled by the Syrian regime, the source said that the seventh, eighth and ninth posts are in regions under the regime’s control.

Turkey has 12 military observation posts around the region, set up under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran. Several of them have since been surrounded by advancing regime forces.

The Syrian regime’s forces on Dec. 23, 2019, surrounded one of 12 Turkish observation posts in the region. After the regime’s capture of Al-Surman town, in the southeast of Idlib, the eighth observation post of the TSK in the village was surrounded.

Another observation post in the town of Morek was also surrounded in August, leaving two TSK posts within the regime’s territory.

With the regime’s recent capture of Maarat al-Numan town, a total of three Turkish observation posts were left within regime territory.

As for coordination with Russia on the field, the sources said Turkish soldiers are in contact with their Russian counterparts. “There is contact, coordination. There is no problem.”

Regarding the pause in the joint patrols Turkey and Russia had been conducting as part of an Oct. 2019 accord for the creation of a safe zone, the sources said that patrols are being delayed due to harsh weather conditions.

“There is no such thing as a pause. The weather conditions are very hard and [the patrols] are being delayed. There is no problem with patrols,” they said.

Turkish and Syrian troops traded fire in northwest Syria on Feb. 3, as seven Turkish soldiers and seven Turkish soldiers and a Turkish civilian member of the military were killed, further raising tension between Ankara and regime ally Moscow over the war-torn Idlib region on Turkey’s border.

The Feb. 3 tit-for-tat shelling between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces was the deadliest since Turkey deployed troops to Syria in 2016, ratcheting up tensions between the conflict’s two main foreign protagonists.

The Syrian regime’s forces have been advancing since December into the country’s last rebel stronghold, which spans Idlib province and parts of nearby Aleppo. Turkish troops are deployed in some of those rebel-held areas to monitor an earlier cease-fire that has since collapsed.

Idlib is home to some 3 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria in earlier bouts of violence.

Hulusi Akar,