President Erdoğan aims statement at both Assad regime and Kurdish-led groups
With pro-Assad forces threatening an offensive on Idlib Province in northwest Syria, Turkey says it will create more “safe zones” beyond Assad regime control.
Idlib is the last remaining major opposition area after pro-Assad offensives, enabled by Russian bombing, reoccupied East Ghouta near Damascus and other parts of southern Syria this spring and summer.
Turkey launched its military intervention in the northwest in August 2016, advancing alongside rebels against first the Islamic State and then the Kurdish canton of Afrin. The Turkish-rebel alliance now holds most of Idlib and parts of Aleppo and Hama Provinces.
The Assad regime has pledged to “regain every inch” of Syria. In January, pro-Assad forces took a slice of southeast Idlib.
Since then, Turkey has set up a ring of observation posts around most of Idlib. But last week Russian and regime forces bombed and shelled just outside the Turkish line, killing more than 30 people and wounding more than 50, raising concerns of a forthcoming ground assault.
The area is home to an estimated 2.5 million people, many of them displaced from other areas of Syria. A pro-Assad assault would raise the problem for Turkey, which already has more than 3 million Syrian refugees, of whether it would open its border for more who flee the fighting and destruction.
Erdoğan: “More Areas Safe”
Speaking at his provincial headquarters in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said 250,000 people have already returned to areas taken by the Turkish-rebel advances.
“God willing soon we will have liberated more places and made more areas safe,” he said.
The President said diplomatic and military efforts in Idlib have been accelerated to avoid a “catastrophe” like those in other parts of Syria.
Erdoğan’s remarks can also be seen as a declaration of holding and possibly taking more territory from Kurdish-led forces, following the capture of Afrin in March.
Discussions are ongoing over the future of Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province, taken by the Kurdish-led, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces from ISIS in August 2016. The city is mainly Arab, but Kurdish forces have maintained control in alliance with the local council.
67+ Dead After Buildings Destroyed by Ammo Explosion
[UPDATE: The death toll is now 67, with 35 injured and 12 pulled from the rubble.]
At least 36 people are feared dead in Sarmada in Idlib Province after two buildings (see map) were flattened by the detonation of ammunition.
White Helmets volunteers managed to rescue 10 people alive from under the rubbles so far, after the unknown explosion in the city of #Sarmada earlier today. The search and rescue operations continue for the missing. #Idlibs pic.twitter.com/XUmmoEZGoy
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) August 12, 2018
Most of those killed were displaced residents of Rastan in northern Homs Province.
Local sources said the ammunition belonged to a merchant, Abu Yazan al-Homsi, trading on the black market. The cause of the explosion is unknown, with some unconfirmed claims suggesting a Russian drone strike.