UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS BY FAHRETTIN ALTUN, CHANGES HEADLINE
By Aylin Dal, Ferdi Turkten and Yildiz Nevin Gundogmus
ANKARA (AA) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in their phone conversation agreed to meet face to face soon, Turkey's communications director said on Friday.
Fahrettin Altun was speaking to media representatives in the capital Ankara on the latest developments after Thursday night's attack on Turkish soldiers by Assad regime forces in Idlib, northwestern Syria.
Altun said that Erdogan told Putin the current refugee situation along the Turkish borders was due to the Syrian regime’s negligence and deliberate acts.
He said that Erdogan clearly emphasized that the blood of the Turkish martyrs “will never be left on the ground.”
“In an environment where our country is under direct attack, he [Erdogan] said Turkey considers all elements of the regime legitimate target and that those targets will be under fire,” Altun said.
According to the communications director, Erdogan also said Turkey expects that the regime should be obliged to comply with the Sochi agreement.
Erdogan added that these attacks cannot change Turkey’s stance on Idlib, and called on Russia to fulfill its responsibility by stopping the Assad regime in line with the Article 3 of the Sochi agreement, Altun said.
He said that the Turkish Armed Forces carried out attacks on Syrian regime targets, killing 2,038 regime elements and destroying a total of 78 tanks, 29 armored vehicle, 53 howitzers, 27 military vehicles and nine ammunition depots in the operations since February 10.
Under the leadership of Erdogan, Altun added, Turkey takes the strongest, the most stable and consistent steps in order to find permanent solution to Syria crisis on the ground.
He said Turkey fights against all terrorist organizations without any distinction, adding that Turkey's safe zone plan in Syria is the only feasible project for the refugee crisis.
Altun also pointed out that the Western countries see the Syria crisis only with a perspective that there should be no refugees or no foreign fighters on their land.
He said the Western countries has not contributed to find a solution to the Syria crisis.
”No country can claim that it is safe from terrorism. It is literally a matter of time [...] Spread of terror from one country to another is a matter of time, if right steps are not taken,” the communications director said.
Late Thursday, at least 33 Turkish soldiers were martyred and dozens of others injured in an airstrike by Assad regime forces in the Idlib, Syria de-escalation zone, just across Turkey’s southern border.
The Turkish soldiers are working to protect local civilians under a September 2018 deal with Russia under which acts of aggression are prohibited in the region.
But more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by Assad and Russian forces in the zone since then, as the cease-fire continues to be violated.
Thursday’s attack was one of a series since January on Turkish troops, with Turkish officials keeping their pledge that such assaults would not go unanswered.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.
More than 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks.
Since the eruption of the bloody civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey has taken in some 3.7 million Syrians who fled their country, making it the world’s top refugee hosting country.
*Writing by Burak Dag