Turkey ready to act after reinforcing Syria’s Idlib

ANKARA: Turkey has sent major reinforcements to Syria’s northwestern Idlib region and “all options are on the table”, a senior official said on Sunday, as Ankara tries to stem rapid advances by Syrian government forces.
The government offensive in Idlib, the last major enclave of opposition to President Bashar al Assad, has driven more than half a million people from their homes towards the closed Turkish border, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more and has demanded Damascus pull back in Idlib by the end of the month or face Turkish action.
Large convoys of military vehicles carrying tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment have crossed into Syria to reinforce a dozen Turkish military positions, several of which are now surrounded by advancing Syrian troops.
“There was a serious troop and military equipment support sent to Syria’s Idlib region in recent weeks,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
Three hundred vehicles entered Idlib on Saturday, bringing the total to around 1,000 this month, he said. He declined to say exactly how many new troops had been deployed, but described it as a “notable amount”.
“The observation points have been fully reinforced,” the official said. “The Idlib front has been strengthened.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said 1,240 Turkish military vehicles crossed into Idlib in the last week, along with 5,000 soldiers.
The fighting in Idlib has shaken the fragile cooperation between Turkey, which backs rebels who once hoped to topple Assad, and Russia, whose support helped the once-beleaguered president bring most of the country back under his control.
On Monday, eight Turkish military personnel were killed in shelling by Syrian government forces, prompting Turkey to tell Russia to “stand aside” while its forces to bombard dozens of Syrian army targets in retaliation.
“The regime, with Russia’s support, has been violating all agreements and accords,” the official said. “We are prepared for any event. Of course, all options are on the table.” Despite Turkey’s disagreement with Russia over Idlib, the official described talks between them in Ankara on Saturday as positive. The two sides will meet again in the coming week. — Reuters