Turkish troops have set up 12 observation posts in northwest Syria — but Russia-regime offensive has rendere
UPDATE, 1115 GMT:
Local sources say an Assad regime helicopter was downed in Idlib Province on Tuesday morning.
Video footage indicates the helicopter was downed in Nayrab, near the town of Saraqeb.
— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) February 11, 2020
Saraqeb, at the junction of the Damascus-to-Idlib M5 highway and the M4 highway across Idlib, was occupied by a Russian-regime offensive last week.
Local sources differed on whether the rebels of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army or Turkish forces downed the helicopter.
Neither the SNA nor the Turkish military has issued a statement.
The pro-Assad site Al Masdar says anti-Assad forces have stormed a regime position west of Nayrab, capturing blocks of buildings after breaking through the first line of defense.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Turkey and the Assad regime have clashed for the second time in eight days in northwest Syria, with fatalities on both sides.
The Turkish military launched air and artillery strikes on 115 regime targets on Monday after five Turkish soldiers were killed by shelling on a position in Idlib Province, where a Russian-regime offensive has seized territory while slaying more than 1,800 civilians, wounded thousands, and displaced about a million.
Local sources said the Turkish unit was in Taftanaz in northern Syria when it was struck.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said its response “neutralized” — killed or wounded — 101 regime military personnel, with three tanks, two howitzer positions, and one helicopter hit.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan convened a meeting with Vice President Fuat Oktay, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Guler, and Head of National Intelligence Hakan Fidan.
State news agency Anadolu said “it was decided that the attack would be responded to as many times as possible so the blood of the martyrs would not be shed in vain….No kind of attack can deter Turkey from its commitments in Idlib, including preventing any kind of conflict, providing border security and preventing a new wave of migration and human tragedy.”
On February 2, Assad regime forces killed seven Turkish troops and a military contractor in an artillery attack.
The Turkish military initially said it “neutralized” 76 regime troops with retaliation on 54 targets the next day. It later quietly downgraded the casualty claim to 13 regime soldiers killed.
On Saturday, Ankara said a battalion has been dispatched to each of 12 observation posts around Idlib and northern Hama Provinces, where last April’s Russia-regime offensive shattered a “de-escalation zone” declared by Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2018.
The posts have been ineffectual as the Russia-regime air and ground assault seized almost all of northern Hama and part of southern Idlib and caused a humanitarian crisis. About three million people — 20% of Syria’s remaining population — live in the greater Idlib area, and Turkey closed its border in 2016 after taking 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
But Turkey has been sending weapons and ammunition to anti-Assad fighters, and its announcement raised the prospect of holding the line near Saraqeb, the key town on the M4 and M5 highways occupied by Russia and the regime last week.
Some opposition activists even spoke of a counter-attack to reclaim the town.
Russia’s Pushback on Turkey?
Erdoğan has stepped up his rhetoric in the past two weeks, criticizing Russia by name for the first time and demanding a regime withdrawal from Idlib.
On Saturday, Turkish officials hosted a Russian delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin and the Kremlin envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev.
But there was no sign of any progress on substantive points, and the two sides said only that the talks would be reviewed in “coming weeks”.
Russian State media, which ignored last week’s Turkish-regime clash, covered Monday’s events.
In a state of tension with Ankara — and resistance to the Turkish military’s response to the regime — the Russian Defense Ministry declared that bloodshed could have been avoided if Ankara notified the Assad regime of its troop movements.
The Ministry maintained that the Turkish convoy was travelling where regime forces were carrying out an anti-terrorist operation”.
Units of the Turkish military conducted movement within the Idlib de-escalation zone during the nighttime from February 2 to February 3 without informing the Russian side and came under fire by the Syrian government troops, which were targeting terrorists west of Saraqeb.
Without mentioning the Russia-regime offensive, State outlet RT jabs, “Ankara is expected to use its influence among anti-government fighters controlling it to prevent hostilities with Damascus troops, eventually leading to a peaceful resolution.”
The Syrian State news agency SANA’s English-language site does not mention the clashes.