Published On: Wed, Feb 19th, 2020

Turkish military op in Idlib only ‘matter of time’, Erdogan warns Damascus

A new Turkish military incursion into Syria’s Idlib governorate has been planned and may start at any moment, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned, ramping up a tense standoff with Damascus.

“As with all [previous] operations, we say ‘we could suddenly come one night.’ In other words, an Idlib operation is a matter of time,” Erdogan said, referring to incursions into Syria conducted in 2016, 2018 and last year.

Ankara will not “leave Idlib to the Assad regime and its backers,” Erdogan vowed, referring to the Syrian government and, apparently, to Russia and Iran. Speaking to lawmakers on Wednesday, he said his words were “a final warning.”

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FILE PHOTO. Turkish soldiers in an armored vehicle return from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad. ©REUTERS / Huseyin Aldemir
‘Worst case scenario’: Kremlin slams Turkey’s threat of military operation against Syrian government in Idlib

The Turkish president also said negotiations with Russia over Idlib have so far failed to meet Ankara’s demands, and that the two sides are “miles away” from resolving the ongoing crisis. He said he is determined to make safeguard Idlib “no matter the cost,” as Turkey would otherwise face a new wave of refugees.

“We are determined at all costs to turn Idlib into a safe haven for the sake of Turkey and the people of the region,” he said.

The northwestern Syrian province bordering Turkey is the last major stronghold of anti-government forces in the protracted civil war. Ankara backs some of the armed groups in the area, but there is also a strong presence of jihadists, who have no interest in a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Under an agreement with Russia, Turkey is supposed to use its leverage in Idlib to curb violence and prevent attacks on other parts of Syria.

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(L) Turkish military vehicles are seen in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, February 11, 2020. © REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi; (R) Aleksei Erkhov, Russian ambassador to Turkey © Twitter / RusEmbTurkey
‘I receive direct threats’: Russia’ top diplomat in Turkey describes heated environment amid Idlib tensions

The arrangement never fully worked, with Damascus regularly complaining about cross-border militant attacks. Its response was to gradually take control over some parts of the province, forcing jihadists to retreat. Since last month the advancements put Syrian troops in direct opposition to Turkish forces, which have been deployed in Idlib to monitor the situation. At least two clashes between them have resulted in casualties among the Turks, angering Ankara.

Moscow is mediating in the situation to prevent it from boiling over into a major confrontation. Erdogan has demanded that Damascus pull back its forces from Idlib and threatened to use the Turkish army to force a retreat if necessary.

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