President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey’s military would strike Russian-backed Syrian forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt as the Assad government tried to regain control of Idlib province.
Erdogan said Turkey is determined to push Syrian government forces beyond Turkish observation posts in Idlib by the end this month, and he urged allied Syrian rebels not to give government forces an excuse to attack.
Violence has flared in Idlib, in northwest Syria and bordering Turkey, in recent weeks as government forces backed by Russia and Iran have made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last insurgent bastion in Syria’s nine-year-old war.
Turkey, which is allied with some rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, mounted a counter-attack on Tuesday after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling in Idlib in the last 10 days.
“If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of Idlib’s borders or the lines of the Sochi agreement,” Erdogan said, referring to a 2018 ceasefire accord.
“We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating, without allowing for any stalling,” he told members of his AK Party in Ankara. Russia, which has an airbase in Syria, has controlled Idlib’s air space for several years.
Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of an agreement with Russia and Iran to establish what is termed a de-escalation zone.
This month it has poured some 5,000 troops and convoys of military vehicles across the border into Idlib, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and radar equipment to bolster its existing military positions.