Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to reporters in Istanbul, June 14, 2019 (DHA)
Turkey has stepped up criticism of Moscow over the six-week Russia-regime offensive in northwest Syria.
Both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu issued pointed remarks on Friday, a day after Assad regime forces fired 35 mortar shells on one of 12 Turkish observation posts around northern Hama and Idlib Provinces.
Erdoğan said he will not remain silent if the regime, which has periodically fired on the observation posts before and during the offensive, continues the attacks. He then spoke about Russian-regime bombing and shelling of Idlib which has killed about 325 civilians since April 28, saying Ankara will do whatever it takes to stop the casualties.
“If the regime attacks more Turkish observation points and continues to take such missteps, we cannot remain silent. We want deaths to stop in Syria, the bombing of Idlib with barrel and phosphorus bombs is inexcusable.
Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey is “working with Russia” on a cease-fire — which regime forces failed to observe — announced by Moscow at midnight on Wednesday. But he chided Moscow, “Russia needs to fulfill its responsibility here.”
The Russia-regime offensive shattered a demilitarized zone announced by Moscow and Ankara last September around northern Hama and Idlib, where an estimated 3 million people — about 20% of Syria’s remaining population — live.
Despite fears of more displaced Syrians adding to 3.6 million refugees already in Turkey, the Erdoğan Government has been limited in its criticism of attacks which have added to more than 300,000 who have fled homes since last September despite the demilitarized zone. However, reports indicate that Turkey has been supplying weapons to anti-Assad forces who have counter-attacked in northwest Hama, including the regaining of territory last week.
One Turkish soldier was wounded and evacuated on Thursday from the attacked observation post in southern Idlib Province.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said any excuse from Russia over the regime’s breaking of the ceasefire is “unacceptable”, since Moscow, along with Turkey and Iran, is supposed to be a guarantor of the demilitarized zone.
But Russia provided cover for the regime on Thursday by maintaining that it was rebels rather than regime units who fired on the Turkish observation post. The Russian Defense Ministry said Turkey had request four retaliatory airstrikes on “terrorists”, a claim rejected by the Turkish Defense Ministry: “[This] does not reflect the truth.”
And Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated yesterday that the offensive will not be halted, eliminating any distinction between Turkish-backed rebels and the hardine Islamist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
Putin said at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:
Our immediate task now is to ensure the complete elimination of hotbeds of terrorism, primarily in Idlib, and at the same time to increase the volume of humanitarian aid and assistance to the economic reconstruction of Syria provided by the international community.