Turkey is determined to push back Syrian regime forces from observation posts in Idlib by end-February, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the governing Justice and Development (AK) Party meeting.

President of Turkey and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the party's group meeting at Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, Turkey on February 12, 2020.
President of Turkey and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the party's group meeting at Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, Turkey on February 12, 2020. (AA)

Turkey's military will strike Syrian regime forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier is hurt, regardless of the 2018 Sochi deal with Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Erdogan said Turkey is determined to push Syrian regime forces beyond Turkish observation posts in the northwestern Idlib region by the end of February, and he warned Syrian opposition groups not to give regime forces an excuse to attack.

"If any harm comes to our soldiers in observation posts [in Idlib] or anywhere [in Syria], I declare from there that we will hit regime forces everywhere regardless of the Sochi deal," Erdogan said in Ankara.

"We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating, without allowing for any stalling," he told members of his Justice and Development (AK) Party. 

Violence has flared in Idlib, just south of Turkey's border, in recent weeks as regime forces backed by Russia and Iran have made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last opposition bastion after the country's nine-year war.

The Syrian people’s fight for freedom is also Turkey’s fight, he said.

Turkish observation posts were established in 2018 under the Astana peace process.

Putin, Erdogan discuss Idlib, Syria over phone

Russian and Turkish presidents discussed the latest developments in Idlib, a de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria over the phone, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.

The phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Erdogan came after five Turkish troops were killed and five injured in an attack by Assad regime forces in Idlib, on Monday, following a similar attack last week killing seven soldiers and a civilian contractor working with the Turkish military.

The two presidents agreed to hold additional consultations via relevant departments, the Kremlin said in a statement, published on its official website.

"The two leaders continued discussions on various aspects of resolving the Syrian crisis, primarily in the context of the worsening situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

“The importance of full implementation of the existing Russian-Turkish agreements, including the Sochi memorandum of September 17, 2018, was noted. For this purpose, it was agreed to conduct additional contacts through the relevant departments," read the statement.

Attacks in Idlib

The Turkish troops are in Idlib –– nominally a ceasefire zone, under a deal between Turkey and Russia –– as part of an anti-terror and peace mission.

Russia, which has an air base in Syria, has controlled Idlib's air space for several years.

Turkey has since retaliated for both attacks, hitting scores of targets and killing some 200 Assad regime troops.

Idlib has been a stronghold of the opposition and anti-regime 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 then, flouting both the 2018 ceasefire and a new one that started on January 12.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies