Turkey's President Erdogan talks about establishing a "safe zone" to provide shelter and support to civilians fleeing facing harsh winter conditions in Idlib, adding that Turkish organisations were already building structures in the area.

A Syrian boy stands in front of a Turkish military vehicle east of Idlib city in northwestern Syria on February 20, 2020, amid ongoing regime offensive on the last major rebel bastion in the country's northwest.
A Syrian boy stands in front of a Turkish military vehicle east of Idlib city in northwestern Syria on February 20, 2020, amid ongoing regime offensive on the last major rebel bastion in the country's northwest. (AFP)

Turkey on Friday deployed more military vehicles and equipment to be sent to neighbouring Syria's Idlib province as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would talk to his Russian counterpart as efforts intensified to avoid more bloodshed in the last opposition stronghold.

Footage from the private IHA news agency showed a truck convoy transporting army tanks and equipment through the town of Hatay on its way to Turkey's southern border.

The deployment comes after Erdogan threatened to increase military involvement in Syria after Ankara reported that an air strike killed two Turkish soldiers on Thursday.

Turkey has sent thousands of additional troops and armoured vehicles to Syria in recent weeks, vowing to halt advances by the Syrian regime.

A contactor and 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria this month amid an offensive by regime leader Bashar Assad's forces aimed at recapturing remaining opposition-held areas in the region.

Russian air strikes in the Idlib are boosting regime's onslaught that has forced nearly one million civilians to flee –– the biggest wave of displacement of the nine-year conflict.

Erdogan-Putin talk

Erdogan told reporters he would speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin after an earlier three-way call with the leaders of France and Germany. 

His office said the Turkish leader had "emphasised the importance of providing strong support through concrete actions to prevent a humanitarian crisis" during the call with France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel.

Turkey is determined to prevent a fresh influx of displaced people adding to the nearly 4 million Syrian refugees it already hosts. 

With Ankara threatening an "imminent" operation against the Syrian regime, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar inspected troops gathered at the Syrian border on Friday.

Erdogan spoke of establishing a "safe zone" to provide shelter and support to fleeing civilians facing harsh winter conditions, adding that Turkish organisations were already building structures in the area.

"Our work continues. We will have a discussion with Putin. I hope we will take a beneficial step with this," he said.

"There is no option of withdrawal from Syria," he said.

"As you know it's winter right now, and our brothers and sisters over there, in harsh weather conditions, have refuge ... as well as food ... [German] Chancellor Merkel has pledged 25 million euros [for them]," Erdogan said, adding "I asked [French President] Macron to contribute too."

Merkel and Macron also held talks with Putin on Thursday, later calling for the fighting to end and proposing a four-way summit with Erdogan.

A Kremlin spokesman told reporters on Friday that "the possibility of holding a summit is under discussion", but that there was still no decision.

Idlib falls within a de-confliction zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018. 

The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the territory where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

'Bloodbath'

The United Nations, meanwhile, said fighting in the region could "end in a bloodbath" and it called again for a ceasefire, while Moscow denied reports of a mass flight of civilians from a Russian-led Syrian regime offensive in the region.

A spokesman for OCHA, the UN's humanitarian agency, said 60 percent of the 900,000 people trapped in a shrinking space after fleeing were children. 

"We call for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further suffering and what we fear may end in a bloodbath," OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke told a news briefing.

"The front lines and relentless violence continue to move closer to these areas which are packed with displaced people, with bombardments increasingly affecting displacement sites and their vicinity," he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called for an immediate ceasefire in the region "to end the humanitarian catastrophe and now also to avoid an uncontrollable escalation."

"This man-made humanitarian nightmare for the long-suffering Syrian people must stop. It must stop now," Guterres told reporters in New York.

'Horrendous conditions'

Earlier on Friday, the EU's 27 leaders condemned Syrian regime attacks, saying the offensive was "causing enormous human suffering". 

"The EU urges all parties to the conflict to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law and to allow unimpeded and direct humanitarian access to all those in need," they said in a statement. 

Syrian aid workers have put out desperate calls for ceasefire and international help. 

The UN says 900,000 people –– more than half of them children –– have been displaced in "horrendous conditions" since December 1, when the latest offensive began.

Syria's nearly nine-year war has killed an estimated 400,000 Syrians, displaced millions more, and left much of the country in ruins.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies