"Evacuating the observation post in Idlib after the regime's attack is definitely not happening, it won't happen anywhere," Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar speaks during a meeting with acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan at the Pentagon in Washington on February 22, 2019.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar speaks during a meeting with acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan at the Pentagon in Washington on February 22, 2019. (Kevin Wolf / AP)

Turkey will not evacuate its military observation post in northern Syria's Idlib, the last opposition and rebel stronghold in the region, after a suspected Syrian regime attack this month, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Turkish news outlet Anadolu  Agency has reported that Syrian regime forces have carried out at least three attacks near a Turkish observation post in the Idlib de-escalation zone, one of 12 posts set up under an agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran last May.

"Evacuating the observation post in Idlib after the regime's attack is definitely not happening, it won't happen anywhere," Akar told reporters late on Tuesday.

"The Turkish Armed Forces will not retreat from where it is located."

More than three million people live in Idlib and surrounding areas, including many who fled regime advances in other parts of Syria in recent years.

At least 180,000 people have fled an upsurge in violence in north-west Syria, and regime bombings have killed dozens during the past three weeks.

Since last year, the region has been partly shielded in a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, but much of the recent fighting has hit that buffer zone.

The possibility of an Idlib offensive has drawn warnings of yet another humanitarian catastrophe, with the United Nations warning that up to 2.5 million people could flee toward the Turkish border in such a scenario.

"The regime is doing its best to disrupt the status quo, using barrel bombs, land offensives and air bombings," Akar said, adding that 300,000 people had been displaced due to the conflict in the past month.

Akar said the beginning of a "new tragedy" had been prevented and he had discussed preventing a new wave of migrants into Turkey with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu.

Latest on S-400, F-35 talks with the US

Turkish military personnel are currently receiving training in Russia for the use of the S-400 air defence system.

"We’ve sent personnel to Russia for S-400 training that will begin in the coming days and will span the following months," Hulusi Akar said.

"We need to set up an air defence system to protect our 82 million people and our country," Akar added, stressing that Turkey was under threat of air and missile attacks from Syrian borders.

Underlining that the S-400 systems only had defence capabilities, he said "no one should be bothered" by their use by Turkey.

Akar also said he sees an improvement in talks with the United States over the purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems and US F-35 fighter jets, but added that Ankara was also preparing for potential US sanctions.

Turkey and the United States are at odds over Ankara's decision to buy the S-400s, which the US says cannot be integrated into NATO systems. 

Washington says the move would jeopardise Ankara's role in building Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, which it says would be compromised by the S-400s.

Speaking to reporters late on Tuesday, Akar said that Turkey was fulfilling its responsibilities in the F-35 project and that Ankara expected the programme to continue as planned.

He added that talks with US officials were still underway.

Akar emphasized that the F-35 fighter jet was developed under an ongoing joint project, noting that Turkey had military personnel in the US to receive training and for the planes’ maintenance.

"We as the Republic of Turkey fulfil our responsibilities in a serious and sincere manner," he said, adding that the jets would later be deployed in Turkey’s eastern Malatya province.

He also said Turkey was evaluating a US offer to purchase the Raytheon Co. Patriot systems, adding that Ankara and Washington were working on price, technology transfer, joint production issues on the latest offer from US officials.

The French Option

Akar noted that his French counterpart Florence Parly had suggested deploying French Samp-T air defence batteries in Turkey.

The proposal came during his visit to France with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he said, adding that a deal could be reached in the coming period as a symbol of "Turkish-French goodwill."

He added that such a deal would be dependent on Erdogan’s approval.

Fight against terrorism

Akar underlined that Turkey had "neutralized" more than 15,000 terrorists in the past four years.

Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralize" in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question were killed or captured.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU -- has been responsible for the death of some 40,000 people, including women and children.

Akar also noted that over 16,000 government officials had been dismissed from their posts since July 15, 2016, and added that 7,335 suspects were under investigation for their ties to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup.

He said 1,567 military personnel had also been dismissed from the Turkish Armed Forces.

FETO and its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people dead and nearly 2,200 injured.

Turkey accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.

Source: Reuters