A Turkish military convoy moving in Idlib Province in northwest Syria last week (Aaref Watad/AFP)
Assad regime forces have killed four Turkish troops in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, finally bringing Turkey’s military response to a nine-month Russian-regime offensive.
Regime artillery shelling killed the Turkish soldiers, wounding nine, at a control point west of the town of Saraqib late Sunday.
The Turkish army reportedly responded with rockets on pro-Assad militias in southern Idlib and northern Hama Provinces.
The Turkish site Daily Sabah, close to the Government, says in a breaking news flash, “Situation is escalating quickly.”
After refraining or being blocked from intervention against the offensive, the Turkish military began moving forces, including mechanized units, towards Saraqib last week. The town sits on the M4 highway, which runs east-west across Idlib, and the M5 from Aleppo to Damascus.
Russia and the regime launched the offensive in late April, breaking a “de-escalation zone” which had been declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in September 2018. The assault has seized almost all of northern Hama Province and part of southern Idlib.
Ground and air attacks have killed more than 1,500 civilians, wounding thousands, and displacing more than 800,000.
A ring of 12 Turkish observation posts has been pushed aside during the offensive. Some were shelled by pro-Assad forces, injuring but not killing Ankara’s troops.
Last August, Turkey tried to move forces to southern Idlib to set up a line against a Russian-regime advance up the M5 highway. But Russia bombed the route, blocking the convoy.
Pro-Assad forces soon took the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the target of an Assad regime sarin attack in April 2017.
Last week, after the Russian-regime offensive forced another 450,000 people to flee in just over a month, Turkish President Erdoğan finally addressed Moscow in a warning, “We have waited until now, but from this point, we are going to take our own actions.”
He followed up on Friday, “[The regime is] continuously threatening our country with migration….We will not shy away from doing whatever is necessary including using military force.”
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but closed its border to more entries in 2016.
The Russian-regime offensive has effectively trapped more than 3 million people — about 20% of Syria’s remaining population — in the greater Idlib area.