Dozens of Turkish soldiers have reportedly been killed in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib as Syrian government forces, backed by allied fighters from popular defense groups, continue to score territorial gains in battles against foreign-sponsored militants in their last major bastion in the country.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 34 Turkish soldiers had been killed in airstrikes in the area on Thursday.
The Britain-based monitor further noted that the casualties took place in a district located between the town of al-Bara, located in the Zawiya Mountain, and Billion town.
The report came hours after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech aired on the private Turkish-language NTV television news network that three Turkish troops had been killed in Idlib.
“The developments in Idlib are now in favor [of Turkey],” he added at the opening ceremony of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s Politics Academy conference.
The fighting in Idlib is still ongoing, Erdogan said, adding that Turkey and Russia continue negotiations in the meanwhile.
Erdogan went on to claim that Turkey’s involvement in Syria is completely legal under the scope of the Adana agreement signed between Ankara and Damascus decades ago.
The Adana Interstate Agreement on Combating Terrorism was signed between Turkey and Syria on October 20, 1998. It clearly stated that the Damascus government would not allow any activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group on Syrian soil, and would block any terror activities that could threaten Turkey’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Erdogan chaired an emergency security meeting late on Thursday to evaluate the latest developments in Syria’s Idlib region.
Turkish security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told pro-government and English-language Daily Sabah newspaper that all ministers and senior officials were present in the meeting.
Separately, Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Turkey of illegally sending strike drones into Syria’s Idlib region to support Takfiri militants fighting Syrian government forces, and of providing artillery support for them.
Earlier, a military source said Turkish military forces were using shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down Russian and Syrian military aircraft in Idlib as heavy fighting continues in the area.
“Syrian and Russian planes are stopping militants again and again. But the sky above Idlib is also dangerous. The militants and Turkish specialists are actively using portable air defense systems,” Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 24 television news network reported on Thursday.
The report noted that Russian and Syrian planes were therefore being forced to take countermeasures after they carry out a string of airstrikes against militant positions in the region.
Furthermore, Turkish military forces have fired barrages of missiles at targets in Syria’s west-central province of Hama, the northwestern towns of Kafr Nabl and Zahraa as well as the strategic western coastal city of Latakia in response to an airstrike blamed on Damascus in Idlib region that killed thirty-four Turkish soldiers.
Moreover, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has blamed Turkey’s non-commitment to the Sochi agreement for the exacerbation of fighting in Syria’s Idlib region.
“The area has turned into a stronghold for the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist coalition, and we believe that one of the main reasons behind the deterioration of the situation (in Idlib) is the failure to comply with the Russian-Turkish memorandum signed (in the Russian resort city of Sochi) on September 17, 2018,” the Arabic service of Russia’s Sputnik news agency quoted her as saying in Moscow on Thursday.
Under the Sochi agreement, all militants in the demilitarized zone that surrounds Idlib, and also parts of the provinces of Aleppo and west-central province of Hama, were supposed to pull out heavy arms by October 17, 2018, with the Takfiri groups having to withdraw two days earlier.
Zakharova highlighted even though Russia’s military declared a ceasefire between Syria’s warring sides in Idlib province on January 9, foreign-backed militants continue to shell nearby residential areas and Syrian army positions.
‘Some countries seeking to turn Security Council into NATO platform to support Turkish aggression’
Additionally, Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari says some countries are seeking to turn the Security Council into a platform for the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to support the Turkish aggression on Syrian territories.
Speaking at a council’s session in New York on Thursday, Jaafari said the complete liberation of the strategic northwestern city of Aleppo has given local residents a sense of security.
The top diplomat then called on countries that hold sway over the Ankara government and Takfiri militants operating inside Syria to force them into allowing nearly a million displaced Syrians to return home.
Jaafari then criticized Syria’s disappointment with the World Health Organization’s delay in dispatching necessary medical supplies to Syria, emphasizing that the Damascus government together with international non- governmental organizations and the UN has been providing humanitarian aid, social support, healthcare and basic needs to millions of Syrians.
“Syria stresses once again its categorical rejection of any Turkish or foreign illegitimate presence on its lands, and calls for the cessation of Turkish hostile acts and its support for terrorism in Syria,” he said.
Jaafari concluded that Erdogan and Turkish UN ambassador Ayşe Cihan Sultanoğlu have no right to talk on behalf of Syrian people, as Ankara supports terrorism in Syria and continues attacking the territories of the crisis-hit Arab country.
In another development, the Russian military announced on Thursday evening that Syrian air defense units had intercepted and targeted a Turkish strike drone after it violated the Syrian airspace and was preparing to carry out strikes against the positions of government forces in Maarzaf area of Idlib.
Heath of the ministry’s Center for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria, Rear Admiral Oleg Zhuravlev, said Ankara keeps violating the Sochi deal as regards a demilitarized zone in northern Syria.
“In violation of the Sochi accords, the Turkish side continues to support the actions of illegal armed groups in the Idlib de-escalation zone by artillery fire and the use of reconnaissance and strike drones in attacks on Syrian army units,” Zhuravlev noted.