Turkey's Erdogan rules out 'smallest step back' in Idlib amid regime offensive

Turkey's Erdogan rules out 'smallest step back' in Idlib amid regime offensive
Turkey's Erdogan rules out 'smallest step back' in Idlib amid regime offensive

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Turkey will not take the "smallest step back" in Syria's last rebel bastion of Idlib, where several of its army posts have been surrounded, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

"We will not take a smallest step back in Idlib, we will certainly push the regime outside the borders we designated, and ensure the return of the people to their homes," Mr Erdogan told his ruling party's members in parliament in Ankara.

Mr Erdogan said he hoped the issue of using air space in Idlib will be resolved soon. Russia controls the region's air space and has been bombing Turkey-backed rebels on a daily basis in support of an offensive by the Syrian government forces.

"We are planning to liberate our observation posts from the surrounding (Syrian government forces) by the end of this month, one way or another," Erdogan told his party's MPs in a speech.

As part of deals with Russia - a key supporter of President Bashar Al Assad - rebel backer Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib but several of them have come under fire from Assad forces this month.

Ankara has confirmed as many as 17 Turkish security personnel have been killed, which prompted officials to turn to Russia.

Mr Erdogan repeated his call for Damascus to "stop its attacks as soon as possible" and pull back from Ankara's army outposts by the end of February.

Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military seized the town of Nairab in Idlib this week, according to rebel and Turkish sources, but Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's forces continue to made advances elsewhere in the province.

Mr Erdogan first said on February 5 that Mr Al Assad's forces must pull back behind a line of Turkish observation posts by end-February, or Turkey would drive them back.

Turkey, which has already taken in about 3.7 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another wave and has closed the border.

Syrian government forces are advancing closer to the camps for displaced persons near the Turkish border, where the migrants fear being caught up in the fighting.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on the warring sides to allow safe passage for civilians to escape attacks. It reminded them that hospitals, markets and schools are protected by law.

"We are urging parties to allow civilians to move to safety, either in areas they control or across the front lines," ICRC spokeswoman Ruth Hetherington said.

Most of the displaced are cramming in to pockets of territory near the Turkish border. Bitter winter weather has made their plight more desperate, with many camping by roads or in fields due to the lack of shelter.

The government offensive could mark the final chapter of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, made millions of refugees, and devastated whole cities since an uprising against Mr Al Assad broke out in 2011.

Updated: February 26, 2020 03:17 PM

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