Erdoğan: Syrian regime must withdraw from Idlib de-escalation zone by end-February
Syrian regime forces must withdraw from the area that was designated as a de-escalation zone in Idlib province until the end of this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has warned, signaling a new military operation if the threat against Turkey’s military posts in the area continues.
“If the Syrian regime does not retreat from Turkish observation posts in Idlib in February, Turkey will be obliged to do so itself,” Erdoğan said, addressing his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Feb. 5.
Erdoğan made this statement after he held a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on late Feb. 4 during which the two leaders discussed the Syrian army’s attack against a Turkish convoy that claimed the lives of eight Turks, seven of whom were servicemen.
“The attack on our soldiers the day before yesterday was a turning point in Syria for Turkey. It can no longer continue this way,” he said. “Turkey’s air and land forces will move freely in all operation areas [in Syria] and in Idlib, and they will conduct operations if needed,” he added amid speculation of fresh Turkish moves in northern Syria.
The new era in Idlib means a complete overhaul of Turkey’s security approach on the Syrian border and inside Syria, Erdoğan stressed, warning that any and every attack on Turkish soldiers or its allies will face retaliation, without any warning, regardless of the source of the attack.
Erdoğan recalled that Turkey, Russia and Iran had agreed to create a de-escalation zone in Idlib in 2018 by setting up observation posts under the Sochi agreement. “As the security of our troops cannot be provided [through the Sochi agreement] in Idlib, no one can object to our determinacy in protecting them.”
Message to Russia on Tel Rifat
Erdoğan also indicted to the Russian authorities that it wants Turkey’s long-standing demand of the withdrawal of the YPG troops from Tel Rifat, a strategic area linking the Afrin to Idlib provinces. The YPG troops are under the protection of the Russian military in the said area.
“The Tel Rifat region that stands as a threat to our Euphrates Shield Operation must be cleared of the terrorists and be handed to the governance of the Syrian people. It is a must for peace and comfort in the operation zone,” he stated.
He also underlined that the YPG is still active and conducting its terrorist activities in the eastern Euphrates region and Turkey will no longer tolerate them. “Since the guarantor countries in these regions [Russia and the United States] cannot stop them, it will be inevitable to act unilaterally,” he said.
Turkey has no intention to confront with no country and ally, its sole demand is to try to work to find a lasting solution to the security problems stemming from the Syrian theater, the president stated.
“We attach special importance for the continuation of our friendship and cooperation with Russia. Our sole expectation from Russia, a country with which we have deep ties on various fields, from the defense industry to energy, is to understand our sensitivities in Syria.”
Turkish, Russian teams to discuss developments
Erdoğan informed that he agreed with Putin to come together in the coming period, but until then the two countries’ delegations will hold working meetings.
A written statement from the Kremlin on the Erdoğan-Putin meeting underlined that “the sides agreed to take emergency measures, primarily at the level of the defense ministries of Russia and Turkey, to further strengthen the coordination of activities in Syria.”
Turkey won’t stay in Syria forever
Turkey conducts anti-terror operations in Syria based on 1998-dated Adana Protocol, the president said, explaining that it has no intention in staying in the territories of its neighbor forever.
“Turkey will have no business in Syria whenever a full inclusive charter is written, a government that represents the entire Syrian people and terrorists as well as other foreign forces leave the Syrian lands. No one has authority to question our presence in Syria until that day comes,” he added.