If the Syrian regime does not retreat from Turkish observation posts in Idlib, Turkey will use force, President Erdogan warned at a parliamentary meeting.

Turkey’s air and land forces will move freely and launch operations in Idlib, Syria, if needed, President Erdogan said.
Turkey’s air and land forces will move freely and launch operations in Idlib, Syria, if needed, President Erdogan said. (AA)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Wednesday to drive back regime forces in Idlib unless they withdraw by the end of the month to stem an assault which has displaced nearly half a million people since December.

Shelling by Syrian regime forces killed eight Turkish military personnel on Monday, prompting Turkish forces to strike back. 

The Syrian regime is violating the ceasefires reached in Idlib, Erdogan said, citing the Monday attack. In retaliation, Turkey struck over 50 targets and killed 76 Syrian regime troops.

"The attack on our soldiers the day before yesterday was a turning point in Syria for Turkey," he said. 

Erdogan said two of Turkey's 12 observation posts, set up around a de-escalation zone in northwest Syria's Idlib region as part of a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, were now behind Syrian regime front lines.

"We hope that the process of the regime pulling back behind our observation posts is completed in the month of February," he told members of his Justice and Development (AK) Party. "If the regime does not pull back during this time, Turkey will have to do this job itself."

He said the Turkish military would carry out air and ground operations in Idlib, when necessary. "Turkey's main principle is not to hurt lives or the property of innocent people", he said.

Erdogan has said Moscow, which supports Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, and Ankara, which has backed the opposition which tried to topple him, should resolve the conflict "without anger" and agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to improve coordination of their countries' actions in Syria.

The violence in Idlib has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

UN regional spokesman David Swanson said 520,000 people had been displaced since the beginning of December and the numbers could swell further.

Erdogan said nearly one million people were moving towards the Turkish border and Syrian territory under Turkish control. 

"No one has the right to place such a weight on our shoulders," he said. 

Idlib has been a stronghold of opposition and anti-regime armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011.

Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire –– including another ceasefire that started on January 12 –– killing at least 1,300 civilians since the agreement.

Turkey has complained of the carnage and continued attacks and urged Russia to rein in its ally Assad to stop the bloodshed.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies