Turkey has toughened its line against any pro-Assad attempt to regain Idlib Province, the largest opposition territory in Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Ankara, which has intervened in northern Syria alongside rebels from August 2016, will expand its oversight of an area also including parts of western Aleppo and northern Aleppo Provinces:

The number of the observation posts along the perimeter of the de-escalation zone in Idlib has reached 10. The agreements envisage the construction of 12 such posts. The remaining two will be built within the upcoming week. I hope that after the construction of the posts is completed the situation in Idlib will normalize.

Nominally, Idlib — which now has an estimated 2.5 million people, many of them displaced from other areas of Syria — was declared a “de-escalation zone” last year by Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

However, Iran backs the Assad regime’s goal of regaining control of Idlib, and Russia has regularly broken the de-escalation zone with airstrikes.

A pro-Assad offensive, enabled by Russian aerial operations, took key points — including Abu Duhur airbase — in western Aleppo Province and a slice of southeast Idlib Province over the winter. The offensive was paused in late January to redeploy pro-Assad forces for the reoccupation of East Ghouta near Damascus.

The Turkish military then set up their observation posts ringing the opposition territory. However, regime and Russian warplanes have continued periodic bombing across Idlib, causing scores of casualties.

Earlier this month, the UN warned both of an impending pro-Assad assault and a critical situation for the displaced in Idlib, with camps filled but more people arriving after the capitulation of areas such as East Ghouta and a pocket in northern Homs Province.

Jan Egeland, the UN’s head of humanitarian operations for Syria, said, “We cannot have a war in Idlib. I keep saying that now to Russia, to Iran, to Turkey, to the United States, to anyone that can have an influence.”

A Russian Response

Pro-opposition Nedaa Syria reported Sunday that Russia may be setting up its observation posts in eastern Idlib.

Citing pro-Assad media, the site said a Russian survey group toured the area across the Hijaz railway from the Turkish posts.

Turkish outlets portrayed Moscow’s step as one of a cooperative “exchange” for Turkish positions.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime continues its shelling of villages and towns in northern Hama Province — a man grieves over a resident slain in Haloba on Sunday night: