Syrian forces face ‘losing heads’ without withdrawal in Idlib - Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday said Syrian government forces must withdraw to beyond Turkey’s observation points in Idlib, Syria’s last rebel-held province, or face dire consequences.

“Unless they at once withdraw to beyond the limits Turkey has determined, they will be left without heads on their shoulders,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdoğan as saying.

Turkey launched on Sunday Operation Spring Shield in response to the deadly airstrike in Idlib that killed at least 36 Turkish soldiers on Feb. 27. Turkish armed forces have downed Syrian fighter jets and targeted al-Nayrab military airport to the east of Aleppo since the launch.

“We conduct our operations in Idlib in a limited fashion because we desire a peaceful solution to the issue,” Erdoğan said. “We strived to utilise diplomatic channels … as we see it, our good intentions have been misunderstood”.

“We are determined to not allow our borders to be surrounded by terrorist organisations or a tyrannical regime,” Erdoğan said. According to the president, Turkish forces have killed 2,667 Syrian soldiers and militias, and dealt extensive damage to military equipment and vehicles.

“The regime’s casualties and equipment losses are just the beginning. We are just beginning to show our strength to those who see our sensitivity to avoid loss of life as weak or timid,” Erdoğan added.

Turkey has no issues with Russia or Iran, and has not sought to gain territory or a sectarian base in Syria, Erdoğan said, adding, “We are working to resolve the humanitarian crisis caused by millions of people heading towards our country.”

“This nation is in Syria today for the same reason they took to the streets on July 15,” Erdoğan said, referring to the nation-wide civilian protests following the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016. 

Turkey had told the West that it would open its borders for refugees to leave if the country’s burden was not shared, Erdoğan said.

“Now the West will be held to account. By the World High Commissioner for Refugees,”  he added.

“Those who try to deter refugees with their attitude towards them will also answer for it in the international community,” Erdoğan said. 

Greece shut down all land and sea borders and deployed its army at the Turkish border following an influx of thousands of refugees and migrants to Turkey’s borders with the EU.
Erdoğan announced he opened Turkey's border with Europe on Saturday, following repeated threats over the matter.

Images of civilians and Greek authorities attempting to prevent migrants from reaching Greek soil have been widely circulated on social networks.  

European countries refused Turkey’s proposals to settle refugees in safe zones to be established within Syria, and “now hundreds of thousands have headed towards Europe,” the president said. “This will increase. The number will become millions soon.”

“They all wail now because we opened our borders. We will either give a dignified life to these people on their own lands, or everybody will take their share of this burden. The time for unilateral compromise is done now,” the Turkish president said.

Erdoğan concluded his speech by reciting the Chapter of Fath (Victory) from the Quran.