Erdoğan says Turkey will solve issue of using airspace in Idlib
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) parliamentary group meeting in Ankara, Turkey, on Feb. 26, 2020. (İHA Photo)
Addressing ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers in a parliamentary group meeting, Erdoğan said that Turkey’s “biggest problem” in Idlib is that it is unable to use the airspace. The region’s airspace is currently being controlled by Russia and it has been supporting the regime’s offensive against the Syrian opposition forces, which Turkey backs in the conflict.
“The biggest problem we have is that we cannot use the airspace [in Idlib]. Hopefully, we will soon find a solution to this too,” Erdoğan said in the capital Ankara.
The president also ruled out Ankara taking any step back in Idlib and recalled the end-of-February deadline he set for the Syrian regime’s withdrawal from the region.
“We will not take the smallest step back in Idlib and we will certainly push the regime outside the borders. We determined,” he said.
Erdoğan also said that Ankara is taking these steps across its borders in Idlib “so that this will not happen in our own lands and cause tens or hundreds of times more losses” in the future.
“We neither have an eye on Syria’s territory or its oil. We are not looking for adventures outside our borders. On the contrary, we are putting up a fight in order to maintain security along our borders,” he said.
Erdoğan also repeated his call for Damascus to “stop its attacks as soon as possible” and pull back from Ankara’s army outposts by the end of February.
“The deadline we gave to those who besieged our observation towers is expiring. Our demand is the regime to withdraw to boundaries set by the Sochi Agreement, meaning behind our observation posts,” he said.
“We are planning to liberate our observation posts from the encirclement by the end of this month, one way or another,” he added.
The president on Feb. 5 said Syrian regime forces must withdraw from the area that was designated as a de-escalation zone in Idlib until the end of February, signaling a new military operation if the threat against Turkey’s military posts in the area continues.
Turkey is trying “every way” to halt the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Erdoğan added. “Russia does not want to acknowledge the humanitarian sensitivity.”
Backed by heavy Russian air power, Syrian regime forces have stepped up a campaign to retake the last rebel stronghold in the northwestern regions of Aleppo and Idlib, sparking an exodus of nearly a million people towards a shrinking pocket along the Turkish frontier.
The Syrian regime’s offensive has also shattered a cease-fire agreement that Turkey and Russia reached in 2018, despite supporting rival sides in the Syrian conflict.
The exchange of fire between Ankara and Damascus began after opposition fighters shelled Syrian regime forces and entered the village of Nairab, which Assad’s forces had captured Feb. 3.
In almost four weeks, Turkey confirmed the death of at least 16 Turkish soldiers in Syria.
Ankara has sent thousands of troops and equipment to Idlib to head off the campaign driven by Russian air raids.
Turkey and Russia held several rounds of talks between delegations as well as the presidents, yet no concrete result has been reached.
Turkey, Germany and France also made efforts for a four-way summit with Russia set for March 5. The Kremlin ruled out the possibility and said on Feb. 25 that it was working on a trilateral summit with Turkey and Iran. Erdoğan, however, said that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin may still come to Turkey next week for a bilateral meeting.
Ankara expects Sochi deal to be implemented
In the meantime, Erdoğan said that Ankara will "never compromise" on the Sochi deal and expects it to be implemented.
“We want whatever the Sochi deal contains. We cannot compromise on this issue, and whatever is necessary needs to be done," the president said while speaking to reporters during his return from Azerbaijan.
On his phone calls last week with Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron, in which the leaders agreed on a meeting for Idlib on March 5, Erdoğan said the venue of the meeting “will probably be Istanbul.”
He said whether the meetings would be bilateral or quadrilateral would be agreed on later.
Turkey's presence in Syria based on 1998 Adana deal
Rebuffing critics who call Turkey's presence in northern Syria – across the Turkish border – an “invasion,” Erdoğan referred to the 1998 Adana Agreement between Turkey and the former-Syrian government.
“Turkey is here [in Syria] based on the Adana deal,” he said. “What is the process in Adana deal? You will follow the terror groups wherever they go. This is what Turkey is doing, and right now we are going after the terror organizations,” he said, referring to the PKK, YPG, PYD, ISIL and other terror groups.
Signed in Turkey's southern city of Adana in 1998, the agreement was aimed at easing Ankara's concerns over the presence of the PKK terror group in Syria. In its decades-long terror campaign, the PKK has killed 40,000 people in Turkey, including women, children and infants. It is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. The YPG is the PKK's branch in Syria.
Under the agreement, Syria recognized the PKK as a terrorist group and banned all its activities and those of its affiliated groups within the country's territory.
The Syrian regime guaranteed that it would not permit any activity "which emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey."