UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS FROM TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER
By Busra Nur Bilgic Cakmak
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey will not allow another human carnage in Idlib, Syria, said Turkish foreign minister on Saturday.
“Last week, our military was also attacked. We suffered losses. We retaliated and will continue to do so,” said Mevlut Cavusoglu in a side event called Turkish Foreign Policy Options at the Munich Security Conference.
"We expect our allies and partners to work with us and exert maximum pressure on the regime and its backers to stop their aggression," added Cavusoglu.
On Monday, five Turkish troops were martyred and five injured in an attack by Assad regime forces in Idlib, following a similar attack last week martyring seven soldiers and a civilian contractor working with the Turkish military.
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.
Turkey has since retaliated for both attacks, hitting scores of targets and neutralizing over 200 Assad regime troops.
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 then, flouting both the 2018 cease-fire and a new one that started on Jan. 12.
More than 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks over the past year.
Turkey remains the country with the most refugees in the world, hosting more than 3.7 million migrants since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
- Turkey’s anti-terror operations
Cavusoglu went on to say that, nearly half a million Syrians have returned to their homeland with Turkey’s successful anti-terror operations.
“We have cleared over 8200 square kilometers [of land in Syria] of Daesh/ISIS and PKK/YPG. We have prepared the ground for safe, voluntary and dignified return of, so far, 400,000 Syrians to their homeland,” he said.
“After our third operation, Operation Peace Spring, we got unjust criticism from some of our allies,” Cavusoglu said, adding some of Turkey’s allies “choose to partner with a terrorist organization.”
“Immediately after the operation, actually, we signed separate documents with both the U.S. and Russia in a week. This means Turkey also believes in diplomacy and political solution,” the foreign minister said.
Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield and its successors, Operation Olive Branch in 2018 and Operation Peace Spring have all aimed to eliminate terrorist elements from near the country’s borders, including the terrorist groups Daesh and the YPG/PKK.
On Oct. 9, Turkey had launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
- Situation in Libya
Cavusoglu also spoke about the situation in Libya and said Europe should not let this crisis turn into a tragedy like Syria.
“To leave Libya on the mercy of a warlord will be a great mistake,” he said, adding that Turkey will put weight behind the legitimate government of Libya to keep the country intact.
“There is also a risk of further erosion of our core values, if we are not on the side of the legitimacy and territorial integrity in Libya,” the foreign minister said.
He said the international community would not be able to stop violence if it remained divided.
“This is a great risk to regional stability [which could] create a fertile ground for another wave of terrorism and migration,” the top Turkish diplomat added.
Cavusoglu will meet his counterparts from world powers and regional actors in Munich on Sunday to discuss the implementation of the Libya cease-fire and arms embargo.
Foreign ministers from the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Italy, France and other regional actors are expected to take part in the meeting, also referred to as the “Follow-up Committee” on implementing the decisions of the Berlin Conference.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution Wednesday mandating a multinational operation to oversee a lasting cease-fire in Libya.
The resolution calls for an immediate cease-fire, an end to the supply of arms to both sides, adherence to a weapons embargo and the withdrawal of mercenaries and forbids interference by any member states in the crisis in Libya.
Some 14 countries supported the decision, but Russia abstained due to the statement on the withdrawal of mercenaries.
The decision also calls on all countries and international actors that attended the Berlin Conference on Libya on Jan. 19 to fulfill their commitments.
Since the ouster of late leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: one in east, supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and another in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.