Turkish military convoys with a length of several kilometers are entering the Idlib zone, the head of the Russian reconciliation center in Syria Oleg Zhuravlev said.
In recent weeks, Turkey has flown a large amount of military equipment and ammunition to the Idlib de-escalation zone in Syria, the Russian military official said.
“All the main transport arteries in the north of the province (Idlib) have been operating normally over the past few weeks, which has allowed for the transfer to the territory of the de-escalation zone from the Republic of Turkey of convoys, with a length of several kilometers, of military equipment and trucks with ammunition and materials means for the Turkish troops,” Zhuravlev said.
Recently, there has been disagreement between Moscow and Ankara over the Idlib de-escalation zone, where the situation has deteriorated, primarily for Turkey, since the Syrian Arab Army continues its successes.
Turkey accuses the Syrian troops and their allies of attacks on peaceful targets and the positions of the Turkish military in Idlib and demands that Damascus withdraw its forces from the de-escalation zone.
The Russian military responded that the Syrian army was responding to militant attacks.
The Idlib de-escalation zone, in addition to the Idlib province of the same name, includes part of the territories of neighboring provinces – Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.
On February 19, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that Damascus withdraw troops to positions that preceded the offensive in Idlib, threatening to otherwise begin full-scale military operations in northern Syria. He called the issue of time the beginning of the Turkish military operation in Idlib, noting that it could begin “suddenly, one night.”
Erdogan also said that negotiations between the Russian Federation and Turkey on the situation in Idlib have not yet brought tangible results, and will continue. According to him, none of the meetings with Russia on Idlib went as Turkey wanted, and the parties are far from adopting a common position.
In an interview with CNN Turk, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Turkey simply wanted for the Syrian government to comply with the ceasefire.
“We do not aim for a face-off with Russia. This is out of question. We have done everything in our power to prevent this from happening, and we will continue to do so. The most important thing now is for the regime to comply with the cease-fire,” Akar said.
He said Turkey has continued its relations with all parties in a “transparent and principled” way.
Referring to a possible Idlib operation by Turkey, Akar said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “gave orders and set targets” on the issue.
“We have done the necessary planning. We have our A, B and C plan to put into action when necessary.”
He stressed that Turkey’s stance on the Idlib issue “has not changed” and it has been fulfilling its responsibilities on the matter, adding Turkey expects its counterparts to do the same.
Regarding what Turkey expected, Akar said that “the most important issues are ensuring a stable cease-fire and stopping the migration, thus relieving the public.”
He noted that there is a humanitarian crisis in Idlib along with the military issues, adding the regime has been continuing its “ruthless attacks” even on hospitals.
“Our expectations are clear. Our stance has not changed,” he said.
He, too, mentioned that talks with Russ are on-going and that there’s little progress to show for them.
He continued the Turkish rhetoric that the militants in Idlib are “moderate opposition” and they are in need of protection, entirely disregarding the reaction of civilians when the Syrian Arab Army liberated Western Aleppo and allowed for the Aleppo International Airport to operate for the first time in 8 years.
“The regime accuses people living in Idlib of being terrorists. The regime murders everyone who opposes it through airstrikes, ground attacks and barrel bombs. This is a massacre. Turkey has stood with innocent people throughout its history, and this will not change. We will maintain our presence there and expect all parties to comply with the Sochi agreement.”
Akar reminded that regime forces “should withdraw” behind Turkey’s 12 observation points in Syria.
“We need to remind about the fifth article of the Astana agreement. This article suggests that all parties will take necessary precautions to reduce tensions in Idlib de-escalation zone. Under this, we say that we will send our forces there and maintain the cease-fire, by force, if necessary. Whoever violates the cease-fire will be our target.”
The observation posts are the only point from the Astana and Sochi agreements that Turkey adheres to, and not entirely, since it is allowed to have 12, but, instead, has close to 36.
Speaking on the U.S. support in Idlib, Akar said many countries are aware of the humanitarian crisis in Idlib and that Turkey’s activities are respected. He added that “active support” is just as important as words.
“They [the U.S.] previously sent us air defense batteries. Our country is threatened through air strikes and missiles. So there might be Patriot [missile] support. NATO’s secretary-general also made comments on the issue. [Jens] Stoltenberg is closely watching the situation, and there might be further action and plans coming from their side.
“Turkey is not going through an axis shift. It is simply conducting some negotiations to preserve our nation’s interests. No one should try to push us out. We are in NATO, and we will be in NATO. Also, nothing has changed in our EU efforts. We do what is necessary in this issue, but the problems are being created by Europe.”
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