Photo: Reuters

Deadly attack on Turkish forces in Syria

Fierce battles between the Syrian and Turkish militaries in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region were reported throughout the past 24 hours.

The situation quickly deteriorated yesterday evening, when the Syrian army, backed by Russian air-support, conducted a massive bombardment of advancing forces that were later identified to be Turkish troops.

While both Damascus and Moscow insist that “the Turkish troops who came under fire in Idlib were among (Jihadist) terrorists;” the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar asserted that “our troops that are deployed in Idlib to maintain the ceasefire, prevent migration and cease the humanitarian tragedy in the region were exposed to a heinous attack. Our 33 heroes were martyred, 32 heroes were wounded. This attack was carried out even though the locations of our troops were previously coordinated with Russian troops on the ground. Unfortunately, the attack continued after we have warned following the first strike.”

The Turkish top defense official earlier highlighted ongoing talks between Ankara and Moscow over Turkey’s demand to open the Russian-controlled air space in Syria’s Idlib region for Turkey’s armed and unarmed drones. Yet, after the deadly attack occurred against the Turkish forces, and despite Russia’s persisting objections, Turkey launched a wide-scale retaliatory bombardment against Syrian forces, which is still ongoing. According to multiple confirmed reports, the Turkish attacks against the forces of Damascus have been precise and deadly, consequently forcing the Russian-led offensive to regroup on several fronts.

Meanwhile in Moscow the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Turkey of baring responsible for the deteriorating situation in Syria’s Idlib region. According to Maria Zakharova, the Ministry’s spokeswoman, Turkey breached a memorandum of understanding that was formulated between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, which consequently led to the latest deterioration.

“We would like to comment on the current situation in Syria, in the territory of that country the attention remains on Idlib, which has become a bastion of the terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. One of the main reasons for the deteriorating situation, we consider the breach of the Russia-Turkey (Sochi) arrangement from September 17, 2018,” she said.

Zakharova also highlighted the fact that Turkish forces orchestrated numerous attacks against the Syrian army from areas where the Jihadist organizations are operating, obliging the forces of Damascus – with Russian air support – to retaliate against the Turkish army; saying “Attacks were also recorded on Syrian positions by Turkish units. Starting from February 3rd, more than 40 shillings have been recorded, resulting in close to 20 casualties and over 40 wounded among the Syrian military personnel. The attacks took place in a region where terrorists attempted to attack government forces. It is obvious that under these circumstances, the Syrian Army is forced to give a decisive counterblow, with the help of Russian air support, who is conducting the operation “Dawn over Idlib” directed exclusively against (Jihadist) terrorists entrenched in the de-escalation zone.”

Despite recorded hostilities between Russia and Turkey, she informed that “Consultations between the foreign relations delegations of Turkey and Russia will continue, and cover a complex range of topics relating to the normalizing of the situation in Idlib.”

Meanwhile in Brussels NATO Director General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia and Syria to immediately halt their Idlib Offensive. During a press conference this morning, Stoltenberg also underscored NATO’s solidarity with Turkey; yet stopped short from indicating whether the military alliance would amount to aiding its member-state. He said “(NATO) Allies condemn the continued, indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and Russia in Idlib province. I call on them to stop their offensive, to respect international law and to back U.N. efforts for a peaceful solution. This dangerous situation must be de-escalated, and we urge an immediate return to the 2018 ceasefire to avoid further worsening of the horrendous humanitarian situation in the region.”

In spite of NATO’s solidarity with Turkey; a senior Ankara official revealed to TV7 that a decision was made to allow illegal migrants residing in Turkey “free passage” to Europe. Shortly after his statement, which was made on condition of anonymity, information started to circulate across Turkey, driving thousands of migrants to march in the direction of the country’s border with Greece. Illegal Afghan migrant Murad Muradi said he “heard the news and that is why I came. I want to go to Europe.” Also looking to relocate illegal Afghan migrant Sahin Nebizade was quoted saying “We have been living in Istanbul. We want to go to Edirne and from there to Greece.” Amid the influx of migrants, Greece immediately beefed up its border security, in a clear effort to thwart any illegal penetration. In light of the closure, many migrants gathered along Turkey’s western coastline, where they prepared to board motorboats heading for Greece. According to an Unidentified Illegal Migrant “We are going to Greece, we have packed up and arranged our money. We came here to prepare our boats. We will prepare our equipment. We will get into (the boat) and go to Greece from here.”

It is important to mention that our sources on the ground have confirmed that most of the people attempting to infiltrate Europe are migrants from the far east and Africa, rather than so-called Syrian refugees.

In spite of the clear influx of illegal migrants from Turkey toward Greece the European Union continues to maintain that there is no change in Ankara’s official policy vis-à-vis illegal migration into Europe.  EU Spokesperson Josep Borrell said “Information or speculation of migrant movements in Turkey; I would like to stress that there was no official announcement from the Turkish side about any changes in their asylum seeker, refugee or migrant policy.”

The EU commission Spokesman further asserted that the deal with Turkey, in which the European Union pays its significant amounts of money for the purpose of thwarting an illegal migrant influx into Europe, still stands. “So from our point of view the EU-Turkey statement, which was conceived to manage the irregular migration, this deal, this statement still stands. And, we expect Turkey to uphold its commitments,” the official said.

Meanwhile, Washington has accused Damascus, Tehran and Moscow of blatantly lying about the root cause for their offensive in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region.

During a press briefing at the U.S. State Department, the Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Nathan Sales insisted that the operation “has nothing at all to do with counterterrorism” or with “fighting terrorists that are there.” Rather, he stated, that the governments of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies interest has “everything to do with reestablishing control over territory, and subjecting the civilian population there to the sort of brutality we’ve come to expect from that regime.  And the same goes for the Assad regime’s outside enablers.  They’re not concerned about fighting terrorists; they’re concerned about reestablishing hegemony.”