ANKARA, March 1 — Turkey said today it was continuing a military operation against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region but insisted it did not wish to clash with Moscow.
Though Turkey has reported striking targets in Syria since dozens of its troops were killed there Thursday, it was the first confirmation of a full and continuing operation.
“Following the heinous attack on February 27 in Idlib, operation ‘Spring Shield’ successfully continues,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a televised speech.
“We don’t have the desire or intention to clash with Russia,” the minister added. Thirty-four Turkish troops have been killed in Syria since Thursday.
“Our intention is to stop the regime’s massacres, and prevent... migration,” he said.
“We expect Russia to stop the regime’s attacks and to use their influence to ensure the regime withdraws to the borders of the Sochi agreement.”
Turkey has 12 observation posts established in rebel-held Idlib following a 2018 deal between Ankara and Moscow signed in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
But the regime recently has pressed ahead with an assault, killing hundreds of civilians and forcing nearly a million to flee from their homes in the region.
Rebel-supporter Turkey and Damascus ally Russia previously worked closely to prevent a regime offensive in Idlib despite being on opposing sides of the nine-year war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month warned Damascus to get behind the agreed borders otherwise Ankara would use military force to push the regime back.
Akar said Turkish forces had destroyed dozens of tanks, helicopters and howitzers, adding 2,212 regime troops had been “neutralised”.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, 26 Syrian soldiers were killed in Turkish drone strikes on Saturday.
Erdogan yesterday called on Russia to “get out of our way” in Idlib and leave Turkey “face to face with the regime” in Idlib.
The latest developments has strained relations between Ankara and Moscow but Erdogan will likely meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks on Thursday or Friday, according to the Kremlin. — AFP