By Havva Kara Aydin
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey, as part of the Sochi agreement with Russia, is determined to push the Syrian regime outside its observation posts in Idlib by the end of February, the country’s communications director said on Wednesday.
“As our President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan clearly stated, we will now respond to even the slightest regime harassment against our forces with overwhelming force,” Fahrettin Altun said on Twitter.
His remarks came after the Assad regime forces continued attacks on civilians and the recent attack on Turkish troops martyring at least five Turkish soldiers and injuring many others in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
“The Assad regime is targeting civilians and committing massacres. Those who keep talking about human rights and security of innocent civilians are silent,” he said, stressing that "expressing 'concern' about the situation is not enough.”
He explained the reasons of the attacks as to drive “IDPs [internally displaced people] and refugees to Turkey’s border and emptying out this region for an easy takeover,” and that Turkey will not allow a new mass influx to its border.
He emphasized that de-escalation zone agreements are being ignored and Turkey is responding according to the situation on the ground “not [making] empty promises”.
“It is our moral and humanitarian responsibility to support the Syrian people’s struggle for their survival, honor, and dignity,” he said, adding "Syrian people’s fight for their freedom & liberation can’t be separated from Turkey’s fight for survival & national sovereignty. We can’t allow Syrian territories to be dominated by criminals & terrorists. It’s our duty to confront them across the border & throughout our region."
The attack earlier this week followed last week’s attack by regime forces in Idlib which martyred seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian contractor working with the Turkish military. It also injured more than a dozen people.
Turkey has since retaliated for both attacks, hitting scores of targets and killing some 200 Assad regime troops.
The Turkish troops are in Idlib -- nominally a cease-fire zone, under a deal between Turkey and Russia -- as part of an anti-terror and peace mission.
Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-government armed groups since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
But more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in attacks by regime and Russian forces since, flouting a 2018 cease-fire and a new one that began Jan. 12.
More than one million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks over the past year.
Turkey remains the country with most refugees in the world, hosting more than 3.7 million migrants since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011.