Experts say the Syrian regime wants to turn Idlib province, the last stronghold of Syrian opposition, into a killing field but Turkish forces are in its way.
Military tensions have escalated between Ankara and Damascus after the Assad regime attacked Turkey’s observation posts in north Syria's Idlib province last week, damaging one of the shelters and wounding several soldiers.
This was not the first attack against Turkish forces in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. In late April, the regime targeted Turkish installations in the region, where de-escalation zones were established after Turkey, Russia and Iran held a series of talks in 2017.
Turkey has 12 military posts in the region and the regime in its latest provocation attacked three of them, numbered 9, 10 and 11, according to Turkish security sources. They are located in Morek, Jabal al Zawiya and in the village of Istabrak, which is close to the city of Jisr ash-Shugur.
“The Assad regime deliberately attacks these posts according to its own military strategy in the region to claim the Idlib province from opposition forces,” said a source in the Turkish security establishment.
The ultimate aim of the regime forces is to push the Turkish army and opposition forces away from the proximity of two main highways — the M-4 and M-5 — and take control of the area between Aleppo and Hama and Latakia.
“By attacking Ankara’s observatory posts [which are located close to its military advance direction], the regime wants to move away the Turkish forces from the region,” the source told TRT World.
According to another source close to Turkish military, the first attack came on April 29, and less than a week later, on May 4, 12, 29 and 30, more attacks followed. In June alone, the regime has so far engaged in aggression on June 6, 8, 13 and 14, the source added.
“We will not accept the regime’s aggression [towards our post], which goes against the Idlib agreement signed with Russia. We collaborate with Russia and Iran on Syria and it's their responsibility to stop the regime here. They are the two guarantors of the regime,” said Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, on Sunday.
Ankara has supported the anti-Assad opposition since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, but Turkey's NATO ally the US and other European partners left the country alone in its opposition to the Assad regime. The cold-shouldering pushed Turkey to find new allies in Russia and Iran, the two main supporters of the Assad regime.
In 2017, the trio launched the Astana peace process in parallel to the UN-sponsored Geneva talks to address the Syrian conflict through peaceful dialogue.
If Turkey leaves the region, experts say Assad will turn it into a killing field. “That’s what the regime wants,” said the Turkish security source.
“Turkey will not step back from its positions, staying in a powerful sense in the region because it knows opposition forces can not resist the regime without Ankara’s support,” the source said, adding that the regime attacks will use continued violence to "control" the last phase of the war.