Turkey to Keep Troops in Syria’s Idlib despite Truce
By Staff, Agencies
Turkey says its military personnel will stay in Idlib Province despite a ceasefire deal with Russia, and that any withdrawal from the embattled Syrian region is “out of the question.”
Speaking on Thursday, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stressed that Turkish and Russian officials had largely agreed on details of the Idlib truce during talks in Ankara.
“The meetings with the Russian delegation continue and an agreement was reached to a large extent,” he said.
Akar also rejected reports of the Turkish troops’ pullout from Idlib, saying, “Our elements maintain their presence.”
“Our units are on the field; a withdrawal is out of the question,” he added.
Idlib tensions mounted late last month after an airstrike by Syrian forces killed dozens of Turkish soldiers, whom Russia said were “in the battle formations of terrorist groups.”
Shortly afterwards, Ankara waged its fourth incursion into Syria, dubbed Spring Shield, which escalated Idlib tensions.
On March 5, Russia and Turkey agreed on a ceasefire to stop clashes in Idlib, the only large territory in the hands of terrorists after the Syrian military managed to undo militant gains across the Arab country.
Under the deal, the two countries are required to establish a secure corridor along a key east-west highway in Idlib and hold joint patrols there as of March 15.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Turkish defense minister said his country would continue its military offensive in Idlib if the ceasefire is violated.
“Our forces have been ordered to act accordingly if the ceasefire is violated and attacks continue. Everyone is ready at any moment … We will continue to restart where we left off and hurt them (Syrian Army troops),” Akar pointed out.
Syria launched a counter-terrorism operation in Idlib last December after its troops and those of Russia came under increasing attacks by militants based in the province.
The Syrian army gains, however, coincided with a massive deployment of troops and military equipment by Turkey, which is evidently upset by changing conditions on the ground.