Erdoğan has taken the last step in Syria before declaring war – columnist

By giving an ultimatum to the Syrian government to return its forces to positions not beyond Turkey’s observation posts in the northwestern province of Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took the last step before declaring war, Hürriyet daily columnist Abdülkadir Selvi said

The columnist said Erdoğan had used the same method before launching a military operation in northern Syria last year by warning the United States and Russia against efforts to establish what he called a terror corridor of Kurdish fighters along Turkey’s border. 

“We can come all of a sudden one night,” Erdoğan said repeatedly before the Syria incursion. “They did not understand it, they thought it was a bluff. Until Operation Peace Spring began. Then first the United States and Russia had to made agreements with us,” Selvi said. 

Accusing Russia of not honouring deals made with Turkey to deescalate the situation in Syria, Erdoğan said on Wednesday that nobody could object to Ankara using it is right to defend itself, as long as the security of Turkish soldiers in Idlib could not be ensured. 

Turkey has built 12 observation posts in the rebel-held enclave, after agreeing with Russia 2018 to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib to prevent a military assault of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. In return, Turkey agreed to drive out extreme jihadist groups from the area.

But saying jihadist groups had strengthened their hold in Idlib, Russian-backed Syrian government forces launched an offensive in April. Clashes have intensified since last month and government troops have advanced beyond the Turkish observation posts that had been on the front lines.

“We hope that the job of withdrawing (Syrian) regime forces behind the observation posts will be completed in February. If the regime fails to withdraw within this deadline, Turkey will be obliged to do the job itself,” Erdoğan said after seven Turkish soldiers and one Turkish civilian died in Idlib on Monday in shelling by Syrian government forces. 

The Turkish president and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday discussed the situation in Idlib in a phone call, which Erdoğan called a productive exchange. 

“But it is understood that Erdoğan is determined if Putin fails to take Turkey’s determination seriously,” Selvi said. 

“The problem is severe,” Selvi quoted a senior official from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as saying. “There are many areas where we cooperate with Russia. He (Erdoğan) does not want to break them,” the official said. 

Idlib is home to 3 million people, half of whom are internally displaced from elsewhere in Syria. Some one million people have already fled towards Turkish border to escape the Syrian government’s assault, Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey, which already hosts some 3.7 million Syrians, could not tolerate another massive refugee influx.